WEEI’s Rob Bradford spoke to the right-handed Bard earlier this week and found him surprisingly upbeat despite his poor 2012 and undefined role on Boston’s pitching staff heading into next season.
Bard was a shutdown reliever during his first three major league seasons, making 192 appearances and posting a 2.88 ERA with 213 strikeouts in 197 innings. However, his success came to a screeching halt last season when the Red Sox decided to experiment with him as a starter.
Bard went 5-6 with a 6.22 ERA in 17 games (10 starts). He struck out just 38 batters, while walking 43 in 59.1 innings. His season included an epic control meltdown in a game against Toronto, along with a three month demotion to the minors.
Having undone all of his previous good work, Bard’s standing is unknown for 2013. Despite his issues, he was very upbeat in his chat with Bradford; offering some explanations for his struggles and hope for his future.
In addition to his control, Bard suffered a major drop in velocity last season. FanGraphs.com shows that his fastball averaged over 97 mph during his first three seasons, but dipped to 93.2 mph in 2012.
The diminished fastball might be partly attributed to Bard’s switch to starter, but he shared with Bradford that it was more likely caused by a bad back that he kept from the team:
I think the high innings total early in the year and in spring training kind of took a toll. It was bothering me in between most of my starts, just having to get treatment every day. Not to the point where I missed anything. It kind of stayed with me until the end of the year.
Bard further elaborated that he downplayed his bad back because of the pressure he felt from making a successful transition to starter:
I probably didn't tell a lot of it to the trainers, and probably should have gotten treatment on it pretty regularly, but at the same time I was trying to make the rotation and I didn't want to miss a start, which would have hurt my chances. I just kind of pitched though it… I've had lower back stiffness throughout my whole career, this was just a little bit more.
NESN.com’s Didier’ Morais reported that new manager John Farrell, who served as Bard’s first major league pitching coach, has already identified some things for the beleaguered pitcher to correct. Reuniting the pair might be just what’s needed to get Bard back on track.
Count Bard among those who think working under Farrell again can help, as he explained to Bradford:
Nothing is going to be handed to me, but at the same time it’s really nice having a relationship with John. He’s seen before… It’s nice to have someone I don’t have to completely win over. It’s not a completely new set of eyes who I have to try and convince I am a good major league pitcher. It’s somebody who knows me as a major league pitcher.
Bard has overcome even worse struggles in the past. In 2007, his first minor league season, he had a combined 7.08 ERA in 22 starts between two levels, walking 78 batters and throwing 27 wild pitches in just 75 innings.
Moving Bard to relief helped him master his mechanics and reach the majors. Since he isn't hurt, is resuming a relationship with an influential coach and will likely return to the bullpen, there’s no reason why he can’t bounce back again.
Bard shared with Bradford that taking some time off has also helped him put last season and his future in perspective:
The day-to-day nature of baseball doesn't allow you to step away from it, physically or mentally. Every day is a battle and it keeps getting thrown at you and you keep getting thrown out there. It’s good to have some time to sit back and look at the season for what it was from a distance. For me it’s in the past. It’s just as much in the past as my good seasons.
There’s no guaranteed roster spot for Bard in 2013. However, with a strong bullpen, there won’t be as much pressure on him to fit into a specific role like last season.
While the Red Sox won’t depend on Bard, they’d undoubtedly be delighted if he could return to his previous dominant form. If his past perseverance and recent words are any indication, there’s a strong possibility of that happening.
Statistics via BaseballReference