Bard continues to struggle with command

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Bard continues to struggle with command

Daniel Bard has made nine starts this season, and still, the jury would seem to be out on when it comes to his suitability for the rotation.
On the one hand, Bard hasn't been blown out of any games. He's allowed just three homers, and even Wednesday, the Orioles hit no more than two or three balls hard against him all day.
But there's something about Bard that makes him look miscast. He seems to regularly be losing his release point, resulting in damaging lapses of control. Worse, he sometimes seems incapable of correcting the problem within the same inning, leading to long, drawn out innings that drive up his pitch count and drive manager Bobby Valentine crazy.
On Wednesday, Valentine and pitching coach Bob McClure suggested -- out of desperation more than anything else -- that Bard begin pitching out of the stretch, even with the bases empty. That sort of experimentation, however, is better suited for side sessions, or spring training outing.
Much has been made of Bard's precipitous decline in velocity, but that seems a natural outcome for a pitcher who has graduated from 20 or so pitches an outing to one who often throws more than 90.
More troubling is the command issue, which Bard can't seem to harness. He has now walked more hitters than he's struck out, which seems inconceivable with a pitcher who has the quality stuff that Bard boasts.
Nine starts is a significant enough sample size. As much as the Red Sox wanted this transition to work, perhaps it's time to table it when either Aaron Cook or Daisuke Matsuzaka are healthy enough to rejoin the staff.

McAdam: Sure, take Buchholz out of the rotation, then what?

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McAdam: Sure, take Buchholz out of the rotation, then what?

It's easy -- obvious, even -- that Clay Buchholz should be immediately replaced in the Red Sox rotation.
     
What's more, it's apparent who should replace him. Eduardo Rodriguez, though his velocity remains mysteriously subpar, is otherwise healthy and available.
     
Even with the acknowledgement that Rodriguez's fastball isn't as lively as the Red Sox would prefer it to be, he remains a logical option.
     
And there can be little debate over the move to extract Buchholz from the rotation. In 10 starts, he's compiled a 6.35 ERA, and while pitcher’s won-loss records are notoriously misleading, this stat isn't: the Red Sox are 3-7 with Buchholz starting and 26-11 with everyone else.
     
Buchholz's confidence is shattered. You can see it in his body language on the mound. You can sense it with the glacial-like pace in which he works
with runners on base. You can observe it in his postgame remarks, where he looks and sounds like someone with no idea how to reverse his slide.
     
Case closed.
     
But the next part of the equation is a little trickier: what do the Red Sox do with him now?
     
It's highly unlikely that the Sox will just release him. For one thing, there's more than $8 million coming to him for the remainder of the season and those decisions aren't made lightly.
     
For another, it's possible -- hard as it might be to imagine now -- that Buchholz could help the 2016 Red Sox before the season is through. And if you think that's a ridiculous notion, then you've forgotten other similar stretches in his career.
     
In 2014, when Buchholz had what was, until then, the worst season of his career, he still managed to put together a seven-start stretch at the end of the season that saw him go 4-3 with a 3.18 ERA.
     
Or the 13-game stretch inside the otherwise hideous 2012 (season ERA: 4.56) in which Buchholz was 6-2 with a 2.53 ERA.
     
Those two stretches are at the heart of the paradox that is Buchholz - even in the course of miserable seasons, he invariably finds a stretch where he figures some things out and pitches brilliantly for a time.
     
It's one reason the Red Sox have stuck with him for the first two months -- the knowledge that, at any time, something may click, sending Buchholz on one of his patented rolls.
     
After all, Buchholz is just 31, too young to be finished. And as both the pitcher himself and manager John Farrell said Thursday night, in the wake of another poor outing, health isn't an issue.
     
And that's the rub here.
     
If Buchholz hadn't been given a public clean bill of health, the Red Sox could have discovered a heretofore undetected "general soreness'' somewhere on Buchholz's body -- a balky shoulder here, or a tender elbow there.
     
That would have bought Buchholz and the Red Sox some time to place him on the DL, take a mental break from the mound and work on making some adjustment away from prying eyes.
     
Now, that would seem not to be an option -- unless Buchholz, ahem, stubbed a toe getting on or off the Red Sox charter flight to Toronto early Friday morning.
     
Finally, Buchholz is long out of options and has sufficient service time to refuse an assignment to the minor leagues.
     
So what's left? Not much, beyond a trip to the bullpen. And that's where things get complicated.
     
In a 10-year major league career, Buchholz has made exactly two (2) appearances in relief, the most recent of which took place in 2008.
Given that Buchholz has struggled mightily early in games -- until Thursday's start, when he completely flipped the script and retired the first nine hitters he faced, Buchholz had allowed a batting average of  .366 the first time through the order -- it's difficult to imagine him being successful in relief.
     
Sure, the Red Sox could designated him as their mop-up man in  relief, brought in when the team has fallen behind early or jumped out to a huge lead in the middle innings.
     
But such scenarios can't be counted upon to provide Buchholz with enough regular opportunities, and even  if they did present themselves, there's no guarantee that Buchholz would thrive under such circumstances.
     
So, the club appears at a dead end -- unwilling to release Buchholz because of meager starting depth options and the likelihood that he might be needed in a few weeks or months, and unable to find a spot for him to get straightened out.
     
It's the ultimate conundrum, which, when you think about it, is the perfect way to view Buchholz's career.
     

 

McAdam: Ridiculous to think Bradley's streak ended because he hit leadoff

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McAdam: Ridiculous to think Bradley's streak ended because he hit leadoff

BOSTON -- If you think John Farrell's decision to hit Jackie Bradley Jr. leadoff for one night is the reason Bradley's 29-game hit streak came to an end, I've got some swamp land you might be interested in buying.

Such silly talk first surfaced mid-afternoon when the lineup was announced. With Mookie Betts getting his first day off this season, somebody had to hit leadoff. Farrell went with the guy who was leading the league in hitting.

That sounds reasonable. But not to some, who cried that putting Bradley at the top was (take your pick) disrupting Bradley's routine, putting him in a place with which he wasn't familiar, or asking him to change his approach.

Of course, none of those made much sense.

First of all, Thursday night marked the sixth (SIXTH!) different spot that Bradley has hit during the hitting streak. He had hit second, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth. So the notion that any change was disruptive was absurd.

As for the notion that Bradley would treat his at-bats differently because he was leading off? Also wrong. Bradley's major adjustment since spring training has been being aggressive early in the count. So, do you know how many pitches Bradley saw in four at-bats as the leadoff hitter? Eight.

Does that sound like someone who was being forced to be more patient for the night, or someone changing their approach by working the count more?

Finally, Bradley hit two balls on the screws -- one to the warning track in right, just in front of the bullpen in his first at-bat and another in front of the center field door, some 400 or so feet away, in his third.

Streaks come to an end, even when hitters belt the ball hard. Twice.