Not under control
SEATTLE — Three thousand miles away from the major league team he should be playing for, Daniel Bard continues to struggle throwing a baseball.
It’s beyond a frustrating situation for Bard and the Red Sox. It’s now starting to get sad.
While everyone can now admit that the experiment to make him a starting pitcher was a failure, there are concerns going forward with him even as a late-inning reliever, a job he once excelled at.
If you delve further, however, you realize that these control issues really started in September when Bard walked nine and hit a batter in compiling a 10.64 ERA in 11 innings and simply continued through spring training and into the regular season (though they weren’t as severe as they are now).
After the season ended, when Jonathan Papelbon quickly escaped to Philadelphia, Bard approached management about becoming a starting pitcher and the Sox obliged.
But it’s not about who was right or who was wrong in this debate; now it’s about getting a pitcher with a great arm straightened out.
Reports from Pawtucket Friday night were again ominous.
He had thrown a scoreless inning just two days earlier, and appeared to be turning the corner. But these days, when Bard turns a corner, he encounters the boogeyman.
Bard walked three batters, hit another one, and recorded just one out in the seventh inning Friday night. Two of the walks forced in runs. Bard tossed up 26 pitches and gave catcher Ryan Lavarnway quite a workout.
Only nine pitches were strikes. The ball was going all over the place.
“It’s always tough to watch that,” said a veteran scout who was at McCoy Stadium. “You see what Bard was when he was blowing people away with that 98-mile-per-hour fastball, and what he is now, it’s not something you can even wrap your head around.
“I’m sure the kid is going through hell right now and I’m sure he’s got a lot of people saying things to him. You wonder if he’s better off just escaping and going back to Fort Myers and working things out on the side, away from everyone.”
After Friday’s game, Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyler said, “He just doesn’t feel it, I guess. He just can’t repeat with consistency, which is why he’s here, and then you see the wheels start spinning and things kind of snowball.
“That’s the whole deal — trying to get that feel and that consistency to try to repeat.”
In 11⅓ innings of work since he was sent back to the minors June 5, Bard has walked eight batters and hit four others. He has struck out 14.
He has had very good Daniel Bard-like moments and, unfortunately, he has too many of the bad ones.
Bard is the type of kid everyone wants to see succeed. He is thoughtful, respectful, and someone you can tell was raised well.
He wanted to become a starter to fulfill a dream that any kid has when he’s coming up through the ranks. He already was such an outstanding reliever. Even Terry Francona, on a recent ESPN broadcast, said, “The best player the Red Sox have in Triple A is Daniel Bard.”
Bard flourished under Francona. He was brought into the toughest situations and always seemed to get out of jams. Francona often made the comment that Bard pitched the most difficult innings and was the team’s best pitcher.
Going from that to this is disconcerting to everyone in the organization.
Every pitcher loses his control from time to time, but the issue is usually resolved with a mechanical fix. Pitching coaches stress repeating deliveries to get consistent results, and Bard can’t seem to do that.
Is it physical or mental?
“It’s no different than what he went through in college,” said one special adviser to a National League GM. “It’s always been mental. It just seemed that he’d gotten over it.”
Nobody wants to touch the possibility of a throwing disorder, the yips, Steve Blass disease. According to a Red Sox source, they do not believe that is the problem.
All the negativity surrounding him probably doesn’t help.
The Red Sox have had team psychologist Bob Tewksbury working with Bard. Tewksbury is a good source because he is both a psychologist, a former pitcher, and a former pitching coach.
“He’s making adjustments and hasn’t locked in yet,” said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. “I’m confident he will.”
Bard himself said after his absurdly poor outing against Toronto (six walks and two hit batters in 1⅔ innings) that he was “overthinking” and that he needed to get back to pitching as a starter the way he did as a reliever.
The team and Bard decided that getting back to the bullpen was the way to go, but it hasn’t given Bard any peace.
It’s too bad, because Bard could have fit nicely into an already-loaded Boston bullpen. He could have come in and pitched two innings of set-up to get to Alfredo Aceves. The hope is that he still can.
He could have been the guy to close games when Aceves wasn’t able to. Now the Red Sox will have to wait for Andrew Bailey’s return for that.
The big issue now is, where do the Red Sox go from here with Bard? Keep throwing him out there? Try a different approach? Do as the scout suggested and send him back to Fort Myers?
Something different probably needs to be explored. Bard is simply too good for this problem to overtake him. Sooner rather than later, the Sox are going to need his explosive arm in those important late-game situations, the ones that Francona always believed Bard handled as well as any pitcher in baseball.