Bard’s transition to the rotation last spring was a very polarizing topic, and the experiment obviously failed miserably. A year later, expectations are tempered and Bard is somewhat of an afterthought. The reason is not only because of Bard’s 2012 woes, but it’s also because the Red Sox will enter 2013 with a reshaped bullpen that could actually become one of the team’s biggest strengths. All of this sets up a perfect spring environment for Bard, who is looking to revive his career after a tumultuous campaign.
Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara were acquired this offseason to help bolster the back end of Boston’s ‘pen. Each has had plenty of success at the big league level, and could really help shorten games, something that will be even more important if the rotation struggles like it did last season. Throw in a healthy Andrew Bailey, and there are plenty of reasons for Sox fans to be excited about the team’s relief outlook. When push comes to shove, though, it’s Bard who could bring the unit to new heights, as a return to form would truly make the Red Sox’ bullpen one of the American League’s best.
Manager John Farrell‘s use of Bard this season will interesting to monitor. Long gone are the days when Bard was considered Boston’s closer in waiting, but there’s no reason he can’t regain some of what made him one of the team’s most reliable relievers for a three-year stretch. Last season’s whole rotation debacle obviously messed with Bard’s development a bit, but the 27-year-old entered this spring training knowing that he would be placed in the bullpen. The big righty no longer has to worry about the constant barrage of questions regarding his role on the team, and he can instead focus solely on honing his mechanics and getting back to what made him such a successful pitcher from 2009 to 2011.
Hanrahan is slated to be the Red Sox’ closer this season, with Bailey and Uehara presumably manning a majority of the seventh- and eighth-inning duties. Bard likely fits in as a third option for those crucial innings leading up to the ninth, but he’ll be taking on such a role with far less pressure than in years past. Even before last year’s mess, Bard was used to entering each season with an immense amount of pressure, as he was the guy tasked with pitching the eighth in an effort to get to Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth. This season, with plenty of options available for manager John Farrell, there is far less fanfare surrounding Bard, which could ultimately mean a very productive working environment for a guy who clearly lost his way last season.
Bard threw live batting practice for the first time on Saturday, and all indications are that it went well. Perhaps a few more solid sessions can help fully restore the control he clearly lost last season. If so, life could become even more difficult for opposing teams whenever Farrell turns to the bullpen in 2013.