By Pat O'Rourke
On August 31, 2011, Daniel Bard was baseball’s premier eighth-inning man. Between the beginning of the 2010 season and the end of August 2011, Bard was flawless as the bridge to then-closer Jonathan Papelbon. Making 132 appearances over that stretch, Bard allowed just 30 earned runs over 136 2/3 (1.98 ERA), while holding opposing hitters to a .170 batting average.
Nearly two years later, Bard is merely an afterthought among Red Sox fans despite still being in the organization.
Since a rough September 2011 (three blown saves, 13 runs allowed in 11 innings), followed by a failed conversion to the starting rotation in 2012, the 2005 first round pick is trying to find himself in the minor leagues less than two years removed from being one of the best setup men in all of baseball.
He’s made just sixteen outs over eight appearances with the big club in the last calendar year, and was pulled from his last major league outing before making an out on April 27 against the Astros.
Yes, those Astros.
So what has happened to Daniel Bard?
Rob Bradford of WEEI.com caught up with Bard, who hasn’t pitched since May 15 due to an abdominal tear that sidelined the 28-year old righty. In 13 appearances with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, Bard has allowed nine earned runs over 12 2/3 innings, walking 17 and striking out just six. Nine of those walks came in his final two appearances, where he made an aggregate five outs.
With his absence from the mound approaching the three-month mark, Bard is hoping to get back into game action before the 2013 season is history.
“It’s just a matter of getting everything back in shape,” Bard told Bradford. “But I’m excited to go. I want to get back and pitch this year and help the team out this year. There’s no doubt in my mind about that.”
Bard also admitted that it’s been a trying season for him, having been in a situation he’s never been in over his years of playing baseball.
“It’s been pretty frustrating at times baseball-wise,” said Bard. “But my life’s still pretty good. I’m not complaining about the situation I’m in. It’s just part of the game. It’s really the first time I’ve ever spent significant time on the DL. That’s been a little bit of an adjustment.”
The Red Sox, despite being the first team in the American League to reach the 70-win mark, have questions surrounding their bullpen. The Boston relief corps has blown sixteen saves (4th-most AL), and opposing hitters are batting .252 (3rd-highest AL) with a .727 OPS (2nd-highest AL) off Sox relievers in 2013.
There’s no doubt that Bard in his 2010/2011-form could be a shot in the arm for the Sox bullpen woes. And with 46 games still remaining in the regular season, Bard thinks he can still make an impact before game No. 162.
“Everything is feeling good and there’s just enough time left to give me two or three weeks to get going again, a couple of outings in the minors,” said Bard. “Hopefully they’re still in need of bullpen guys because I feel like I can definitely help.”