Bard performance resurrects old bullpen debate

Bard performance resurrects old bullpen debate
June 3, 2012, 10:31 pm
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TORONTO -- The debate which started early in the offseason and never quite died off was reignited again by the second inning on Sunday.

Should Daniel Bard be a starter or a reliever?

After his performance Sunday afternoon in the series finale against the Blue Jays, those choosing the latter may be the majority. But, whether that group includes the Red Sox brain trust remains to be seen.

Bard lasted just 1 23 innings. Facing 13 batters he gave up five runs on one hit, six walks, a home run, and two hit batters, with two strikeouts.

It was the shortest outing by a Sox starting pitcher since Andrew Miller lasted just 1 13 innings on Sept. 2 against the Rangers, giving up six runs on five hits and four walks with a strikeout.

Bards record fell to 5-6 while his ERA rose from 4.56 to 5.24. In 23 games (two starts) against the Blue Jays he is 0-4 with an ERA of 6.10.

As bad as those numbers look, his command was even worse. It was clear from the first batter Bard was struggling with his control.

Its a combination of things, Bard said. You miss close with some. I think thats the difference between when youre feeling good about your delivery and when youre not. You miss with a pitch and you feel good about it and you say screw it and repeat it and do everything the exact same and trust that its going to go where its supposed to. When youre searching for it, try to tweak something because maybe that wasnt good enough and try to make it a little better, thats where I got caught up today.

Bard walked the first two batters he faced before giving up a three-run blast to Jose Bautista. But Bard, who needed 28 pitches to get through the first inning, got out of the inning without allowing any more runs, giving manager Bobby Valentine some hope that his right-hander could right himself between innings.

I was hoping, Valentine said. Pitching coach Bob McClure talked to him. I was hoping against hope, I guess.

As it turned out, it was against hope as Bard came out for the second. He walked the first batter on four pitches. He walked the next batter before two straight strikeouts gave the impression he was regaining command.

But Bard hit Yunel Escobar then walked Bautista to force in a run, and he hit Edward Encarnacion with a pitch to drive in another. That would end Bards outing.

Daniel just couldnt find it, obviously, Valentine said. I was hoping he was going to find a pitch or a release point that worked for him.

After Bards second hit batter, both in on the hands of right-handed hitters Escobar and Encarnacion, Valentine took him out, not wanting to risk an injury.

He couldnt throw the fastball on the outside part of the plate and had right-handed hitters coming up, Valentine said. The last thing I want to do was see anyone get hurt. I didn't know he was going to throw sliders against right-handers.

While Bard struggled with all his pitches, Valentine was most surprised by his fastball.

I was surprised it was a different fastball, Valentine said. That wasnt the fastball he had last time. I was hoping that he was going to build on that. It was nowhere near it.

In his last outing, Bard beat the Tigers' Justin Verlander. Bard went 5 13 innings, giving up two runs (on solo homers) on five hits and two walks with four strikeouts. Bard had won his two previous outings and three of the last four.

The stark contrast between his last two performances surprised even Bard.

I really thought Id found something with my delivery going into the last one with very improved results, Bard said. Wasnt perfect, but I felt very good about how I threw the ball. Tried to carry those same things into today and just didnt repeat it as much.

Bard said he had no inkling during his pregame warm-up in the bullpen what he was in for.

I had a really, really, good warm-up session, he said. Ive learned in the past whether you warm up really good or really bad it usually doesnt necessarily translate to how you pitch in a game. Usually you use that when you have a bad warm up. I felt locked in coming out. Just didnt carry over into the game.

Still he thought he could turn it around.

When I was able to locate some of those breaking balls for strikes, that can kind of turn things around and get the fastball locked in, too, he said. I just didnt did do it on a consistent basis. Not long enough for me to right the ship.

Bard looked at the video of his performance when he came out of the game.

I was watching some video I had plenty of time after I came out of the game watching video from last couple of years and looking at what I might be doing different, he said. The ability to repeat just isnt there. The nice thing about watching that and having that footage to look back at, is its right there. Theres video evidence that Ive done this a thousand times before. Well dig into that a little more and come up with something more concrete the next few days.

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. Its partially my fault. Its all my fault, essentially so maybe its a matter of getting back to what I had success doing in the past.

Asked if he was referring to a return to his previous role or a prior approach, Bard replied:

I mean approach, he said. Theres no reason the way I threw the ball out of the bullpen shouldnt translate to starting. I know its not exactly the same. Weve tried to change too many things. We just need to get back to being simple.

Should the Sox consider skipping Bards turn to give him some time to work on things?

Ill think about it a while, Valentine said. I have some time. Regretful its going to have to take up an off-day. I dont know.

I dont know, Bard said. Its too soon to answer that question.

Such an outing could have an adverse effect on a pitchers psyche.

I dont know, Valentine said. Sometimes its easy and sometimes its hard. Depends on the individual.

As Valentine emerged from the dugout to remove Bard, the right-hander would have preferred staying in. But he also knew the right decision was being made.

I want to get out of my own jam there, he said. Its one of those things Ive been able to grind through similar type situations -- maybe not to that extent -- and been able to get us through five innings. My mind I was trying to do that and on way to doing it but you cant blame the manager for taking me out.

No, you cant. And now the Sox may have another decision to make.