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Missing the target

Conversion to starter has been wildly unsuccessful

There wasn’t much to debate Sunday - Daniel Bard’s outing was a total mess (five runs, six walks in 1 2/3 innings). There wasn’t much to debate Sunday - Daniel Bard’s outing was a total mess (five runs, six walks in 1 2/3 innings). (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/AP/The Canadian Press)
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 4, 2012
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TORONTO - The problem with removing Daniel Bard from the starting rotation is you would disrupt the bullpen, and right now, changing any of the seven relievers in one of the more effective bullpens in baseball probably wouldn’t be the smartest thing.

While Bard lasted 1 2/3 innings, walked six, and hit two batters Sunday in one of the worst performances by a starter in history, the bullpen pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings in a 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays.

Could the Red Sox skip him for his next start? Maybe, but again, that would affect the configuration of the bullpen.

Could they place him on the disabled list?

Manager Bobby Valentine wondered, too, whether there was something physically wrong with Bard.

“I asked him that and he said he wished there was something but there wasn’t,’’ Valentine said.

Nothing to account for a terrible performance except mechanical issues that have cropped up often in Bard’s transition from reliever to starter.

The Red Sox likely will stay the course, put him back out there in five days, and hope he can correct himself.

The most alarming thing is Bard’s decrease in velocity, which brings suspicion of an injury. Maybe he has a dead arm, which could be a way of getting him a couple of weeks off on the DL.

All we could glean from Bard’s postgame reaction is he feels he needs to get back to what made him successful as a reliever. He feels he’s thinking too much. This transition has been as much mental as it has been physical.

Right now he seems to be losing both battles.

His fastball may hit 94 miles per hour on occasion but he’s mostly at 92-93, a far cry from the guy who used to hit close to 100 as a reliever. Nobody expected him to keep that up as a starter, but the hope was that he could reach back for 98 when he needed it. There’s been none of that.

This was a scary outing.

It was reminiscent of Rick “Wild Thing’’ Vaughn in “Major League’’. Bard hit shortstop Yunel Escobar in the second inning on the hand. In the same inning he hit Edwin Encarnacion on the hand, up near his face. It was scary.

Asked if he were concerned about the safety of the batters when he finally pulled Bard, Valentine said, “Yeah, with the second hit batter, he couldn’t throw the fastball on the outside part of the plate and had righthanded hitters coming up. The last thing I want to do was see anyone get hurt. I didn’t know he was going to throw sliders against righthanders.’’

Bard said he had great stuff warming up, but he couldn’t carry it over. He thought his season was beginning to turn around after his last outing, a 5-2 win over Detroit May 29 in which he allowed five hits and two runs over 5 1/3 innings.

“Little surprising,’’ he said. “I really thought I’d found something with my delivery going into the last one with very improved results. Wasn’t perfect, but I felt very good about how I threw the ball. Tried to carry those same things into today and just didn’t repeat it as much.’’

He said there has been something lost in his approach to starting. He started to blame others, but then realized it’s him, all him.

“Maybe we just tried to turn me into a starter rather than take the same pitcher I was out of the pen and move that guy to the rotation, which is probably what should have been done. It’s partially my fault - it’s all my fault. Maybe it’s a matter of getting back to what I had success doing in the past,’’ Bard said.

So what is it?

“Probably the ability to move on from pitch to pitch,’’ he said. “I didn’t do a whole lot of thinking as a reliever, which is probably good for me. I went out there and you miss with a pitch and you say screw it, repeat it and trust that’s how you’re gonna have success, instead of trying to tweak things in your delivery. I need to work on that.

“There’s no reason the way I threw the ball out of the bullpen shouldn’t translate to starting. I know it’s not exactly the same. We’ve tried to change too many things. We just need to get back to being simple.’’

He sat in the dugout as Franklin Morales got out of his jam in the second and pitched 4 1/3 innings of spectacular relief. He finally went back to the clubhouse and watched video of some of his good times.

“I had plenty of time after I came out of the game, and just looking at what I might be doing different. The ability to repeat just isn’t there,’’ Bard said. “The nice thing about watching that and having that footage to look back at is it’s right there. There’s video evidence that I’ve done this a thousand times before. We’ll dig into that a little more and hopefully come up with something a little more concrete the next few days.’’

When Valentine went out to get Bard in his previous outing, after he’d struck out a batter in the sixth inning, Bard told him, “I’d like to be able to go deeper into these games.’’

That wasn’t the case Sunday.

“I want to get out of my own jam there [in the second inning],’’ Bard said. “It’s one of those things I’ve been able to grind through similar-type situations, maybe not to that extent, and been able to get us through five innings. In my mind I was trying to do that and on the way to doing it, but you can’t blame the manager for taking me out.’’

Valentine said, “I was hoping he was going to find a pitch or a release point that worked for him. I was hoping. [Pitching coach] Bob [McClure] had talked to him. I was hoping against hope, I guess. He threw a couple of pitches that looked decent. Just couldn’t repeat them.’’

All he could repeat was ball after ball. There were few strikes.

And the strikes were hit a mile, including a three-run bomb by Jose Bautista in the first inning, Bautista’s first hit against Bard after an 0-for-9 start. In the second inning, Bard went walk, walk, strikeout, strikeout before he hit Escobar. He then walked Bautista with the bases loaded and hit Encarnacion.

Toronto catcher J.P. Arencibia said, “How do you like facing a guy who throws that hard who doesn’t know where it is going? How would you like to face a 95-m.p.h. fastball, plus he had good stuff too.’’

And that was it in a nutshell.

Daniel Bard had no idea where the ball was going. And now he wonders where his career as a starter is going, because all you can do is wonder, after an outing like this, was this a failed experiment?

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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