CHICAGO – Daniel Bard’s struggles over the last two seasons have been well-chronicled. Watching them has been difficult for those within the organization. But having no answers to fix them has been nearly excruciating.
“Yes,” said Red Sox assistant general manager Mike Hazen emphatically. “When a guy’s struggling with a particular pitch and not finishing it, or things like that, it’s one thing. When it comes down to executing strikes and repeating your delivery it’s a little more challenging.
“We see it a lot more at the lower levels, when guys are just getting started. You have plenty of time to leave them in extended [spring training] and do all sorts of quirky things with them to get them to do that. And it’s just a little harder to do that when they’re at this stage of their career.”
At this stage of his career, Bard is no longer one of baseball’s top set-up men. He is in Double A and not even pitching in games even though he's healthy. He’s in something of a baseball limbo, working in the bullpen, until he can find some consistency. For now, the Red Sox have no schedule for him to return to game activity.
“We got to get [him] back to consistently throwing strikes,” said Hazen, who was on the Sox road trip. “We’re working through delivery, throwing progression stuff. But as any one knows, any bullpen guy that comes up here or starting pitcher, it starts with strike one, it starts with throwing strikes. And we’ve got to get his delivery to where he’s repeating it enough to throw more strikes. He’s definitely been dealt a little bit of a setback here with what’s happened, but we’re confident that he’s going to be able to find it again. He found it pretty quickly back in 2007, and we’re confident he’s going to do that again.”
Bard, a first-round pick in 2006, went through similar struggles in 2007, his first professional season and his last season as full-time starter, when he posted a record of 3-7 with a 7.08 ERA, before his disastrous attempt to join the major league rotation last season.
Now, he remains with the Sea Dogs, where his last game activity was May 15. In 13 games this season, spanning 12 2/3 innings with Portland, he has posted a record of 0-1 with a 6.39 ERA. He has allowed 13 hits and 17 walks with six strikeouts in that span, while throwing eight wild pitches.
“We felt like we need to accomplish some things fundamentally without putting him on the mound, especially as a bullpen guy,” Hazen said. “As a starter, you have those five days [in between starts]. As a bullpen guy you don’t have that. Every third day you’re back on the mound. So no matter what happened in the day or the two before, you’re back out there. So it doesn’t give you a chance to catch your breath at all, and we’re just trying to take that step back now.”
Identifying Bard’s problem is one thing. Fixing it is another.
“He’s just lacking in his ability to repeat his delivery when he’s out on the mound,” Hazen said. “And whether that’s part physical, part mental, whatever that is, we got to get to the bottom of it. So keep trying to figure it out.”
The Sox have not considered sending Bard to their complex in Fort Myers, where he could work in extended spring training.
“Not really,” Hazen said of that option. “He’s with good coaches [in Portland]. We feel like there’s good structure there, we feel like we can put a program in place. I don't know what the next couple of weeks are going to [hold], but for right now we haven’t really entertained that.”
How is Bard’s mindset?
“Probably as good as can be expected,” Hazen said. “I’m sure he’s not thrilled with what’s happening. He’s working hard and probably beating himself up trying to figure it out. We all feel that we’ve seen what he can do when he’s at his peak and we all believe that he can get back there, including Daniel. And I think that’s what makes it frustrating for everybody. And he’s working, he’s dedicated to what he’s doing, and he really wants it. And we all want it. I’m sure he’s frustrated. But we’re confident he’ll figure it out.”