After a brutal stint as a starter earlier this year, Daniel Bard will return to the Red Sox as a reliever on Thursday.
When Daniel Bard takes the mound for the first time since his June 3 calamity in Toronto, the Boston Red Sox’s formerly prized right-hander will finally be back in the role he was always meant to fulfill: a reliever.
After a brutal stint as a starter this season, the Sox rightly demoted Bard to Triple-A Pawtucket and shifted him back into his previous slot of late-innings reliever. The results for the PawSox were not great: He posted a 7.03 ERA and walked 29 batters in just 32.0 innings.
Despite this lackluster performance, the Sox will promote Bard back to the MLB roster on Thursday (per ESPNBoston.com), giving him the chance to redeem himself after his horrendous first two months of 2012.
While Bard’s cumulative performance this season would seemingly promote skepticism among Sox fans, there is actually some hope and reason for optimism going forward.
Bard has pitched well of late, and now back in a role that suits him, he is primed to begin his return to form. Here are five reasons why he is going to be successful over the last month of the season.
The first two months of the year, while not quite a failure (Bard did amass three quality starts and had an ERA on par with the Sox’s other starters), were certainly not what the Red Sox or Daniel Bard had been hoping for when the team made the young right-hander a full-time starter in spring training.
When the failure of the starting experiment reached its height on June 3 in Toronto, the organization and Bard needed to take some time apart to make a plan.
The demotion to Pawtucket was an effective way to allow Bard to work out his physical and mental issues without the constant glare of fan and media attention.
While everyone still remembers his failure as a starter, they also remember how well he has performed as a reliever. Now, almost exactly three months after the fact, Bard can return with a clean slate and can use this last month to establish a foundation of success for 2013.
While it has been over a very brief period, Daniel Bard has had a nice run of success in Pawtucket lately that should help him start strongly in his return to Boston.
He has allowed just one earned run over his last four appearances (4.0 innings) and has not walked anyone over his last three.
While his numbers beyond these recent few games are fairly ugly, this recent hot streak can give Bard the confidence boost he needs as he prepares to face MLB competition.
In a season filled with setbacks for the right-hander, the emphasis for Bard must be on building upon small victories. This is one of those crucial times.
Above anything else, what got Daniel Bard into trouble as a starter was his getting away from what made him successful. He is a power pitcher, and he tried to finesse his way to wins on the mound.
Predictably, that strategy failed.
Bard himself has admitted as much, telling the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham on Wednesday that the pitcher got caught “just trying to do things that [he] hadn’t done in the past” and that this approach left him “lost.”
Now back in the role in which he is most comfortable, Bard will return to relying on his high-90s fastball and vicious slider to get hitters out.
If he can simply be himself and trust these pitches, he will be just fine.
With all of the poor performances this season, it’s easy to forget just how dominant Daniel Bard was in 2010 and most of 2011.
Throwing more than 70 innings in each of those two seasons, the flame-throwing right-hander posted a cumulative 2.62 ERA with 150 strikeouts over 147.2 innings. His control was a non-issue, as he posted a 0.982 WHIP.
While things went quite poorly last September (a 10.64 ERA for the month that raised his ERA from 2.03 to 3.33), this swoon can at least partially be attributed to the heavy workload he was carrying.
Even if the Sox had shut Bard down prior to September starting, he still would have finished second on the team in appearances.
With this track record of success, Bard clearly has the ability to succeed over the long run. There’s no reason to expect that, with a little bit of time to readjust, he won’t be able to find his groove again.
While it is impossible to measure things like “comfort” and “pressure,” they both play a huge role in the success of an MLB player.
For Daniel Bard, his return to Boston could not come at a better time.
With the team at 62-69 and currently 10 games out of the wild-card chase with just 31 games to play, the Sox are clearly looking toward next year rather than the playoffs. This is the perfect moment for Bard to return and find his way back on the mound, when fan and media expectations are essentially zero.
He can rediscover what is required of him while working the late innings, and if he stumbles, there are few (if any) consequences.
Indeed, fans desperately want Bard to succeed and to be the pitcher he was the last few years; he makes the Sox bullpen exponentially better when he is blowing hitters away with 100-miles-per-hour fastballs and freezing them with devastating sliders.