FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox named Daniel Bard as one of their starting pitchers last April 1. A year later, the ramifications of that mistake continue to be felt.
Bard was optioned to Double A Portland on Thursday. The Red Sox had little choice given his poor performance in spring training and continued control issues. Once one of the game's premier set-up men, Bard requested the opportunity to start after the 2011 season and the Red Sox agreed. Since that fateful decision was made, Bard has a 6.53 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP in games he has pitched in spring training, the majors and the minors.
At 27, it's fair to wonder whether his career is in jeopardy.
Pitching coach Juan Nieves still believes Bard can return to prominence as a reliever. But it's going to take time, which is why Bard was sent to Portland and not Triple A Pawtucket.
"Sometimes guys go to Triple A and they think if I get a couple of good starts, a good game, a couple of six, seven good innings in a row, then I'm good. I'm back. No, this a process," Nieves said. "A consistency is going to be very important. Not only from the performance itself but his consistency also with his delivery.
"It's not a demotion. We want him to understand that there is a process."
Nieves said Bard took the news well.
"He knows he's not where he wants to be. But he knows where we're going with it," Nieves said. "The direction is there. Now it's how much work he puts into it and how important it is every day. That's going to be the key."
According to Nieves, Bard is getting there.
"The velocity is back. I think there's more in the tank," he said. "I feel very pleased with the progress. I would have enjoyed the fact of having him in winter ball and starting the process earlier. You get another month and half, two months with him and we should see incredible results because he's on the right track. It's just not happening all at once."
Nieves said he wants to see Bard get more called strikes because he's locating the ball well. The Sox don't need to see precision, but they need to see him more in the strike zone than he has been. The Sox also want to see Bard pitch with confidence and attack hitters.
Nieves believes that all will happen.
"Oh, absolutely," he said. "There is a lot there. If he's healthy, I don't see any reason why he shouldn't come back and be the guy that we always have seen."