FORT MYERS, Fla. – It had become clear early in spring training that Daniel Bard had not regained the form that had made him a successful set-up man for the Red Sox before his disastrous attempt at becoming a starting pitcher last season.
After one particularly atrocious outing – in 1 2/3 innings on June 3 in Toronto, he gave up five runs on one hit, a home run, and six walks, with two hit batters – Bard was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, lugging a record of 5-6 with a 5.24 ERA with him.
After two appearances this spring, Bard was held out of games for 11 days to work on his mechanics. That move had limited success. In eight spring training games, spanning eight innings, Bard has given up seven runs (six earned) for a 6.75 ERA.
On Thursday, Bard was optioned to Double-A Portland. He has not pitched at the Double-A level since 2008.
While the Sox believe Bard can regain his form and return to the major leagues, moving Bard to Double A rather than Triple A was made, in part, to emphasize that the Sox are not looking for a quick-fix for his problems.
"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,’” said pitching coach Juan Nieves. “No, this a process. 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."
Bard was not available to comment, but Nieves said the right-hander 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."
The question now is, can Bard, who will turn 28 in June, make the necessary physical and mental adjustments needed for his return to his prior form?
His velocity has been down this spring, compared to the upper 90s he averaged out of the bullpen. His command has been lacking, seemingly as has his confidence. In several outings he’s failed to attack the first batter, appearing to need a batter or more to get into the game.
Nieves would like to have seen Bard begin the adjustment process sooner than this spring.
"The velocity is back. I think there's more in the tank," Nieves 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."
But Nieves is confident it will happen in time.
"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."