Daniel Bard thought he had shown enough this spring to warrant consideration for the Red Sox’ Opening Day roster. Not only did Bard not make the cut, but the Sox also decided to option him to Double-A Portland rather than Triple-A Pawtucket.
Bard could very well find himself back in the bigs this season, but the decision to send the right-hander to Double-A shows that he has a ways to go before the Sox consider such a move. The Red Sox don’t want to see Bard just impress in a small sample. Instead, they want consistency out of the reliever.
“I think also the fact of, sometimes guys go to Triple-A, they think, ‘If I have a couple of good starts or a good game, a couple of six or seven games in a row when I’m good, oh, OK I’m back.’ No, this is a process,” pitching coach Juan Nieves told reporters. “Consistency is going to be very important. Not only from the performance itself, is how his consistency is with his delivery and his thoughts. Everything that we incorporate before, the plan is going to be.”
Optioning Bard to Double-A is a demotion in the literal sense, but Nieves doesn’t want the 27-year-old to view it as such.
“It’s not a demotion. It’s just, we want him to understand that there’s a process,” Nieves said. “It’s not that he goes to Triple-A and has two good outings and, ‘I’m ready.’ He knows it’s going to take time. He got to where he was in a while too. The way back is not just one or two outings.”
Bard showed flashes of his former — effective — self this spring. His velocity was back in the high 90’s, and at times, he demonstrated an uncanny ability to make hitters swing and miss. Bard recorded 10 strikeouts in eight innings, and his command often looked better than it was during last season’s disaster.
Bard also fell into some old habits, though, and that led to three recent unimpressive outings. He allowed three runs on two hits, a walk and a hit batter in an inning against the Orioles on March 19. Then, he gave up a single, walked two and hit a batter in a minor league game on March 22. In his most recent outing against the Marlins on Wednesday, he completely tanked, allowing three earned runs on three hits and a walk.
Bard’s Grapefruit League ERA ballooned to 6.75 on Wednesday, and the lackluster performance all but ended his quest to crack Boston’s Opening Day roster.
In the battle for the Red Sox’ final bullpen spot, Bard was already playing catch-up. Clayton Mortensen was the other pitcher vying for the spot, and unlike Bard (who has three options remaining), Mortensen doesn’t have any options remaining. That means Mortensen would have had to pass through waivers in order for the Red Sox to send him to the minors, and there is a very good chance a team would have put in a claim, thus ending his tenure in Boston.
Mortensen’s option status probably didn’t seal Bard’s fate as much as Bard sealed it himself, though.
The biggest thing plaguing Bard has been his mechanics, and while he did show improvements in that area this spring, it’s clear he’s still a work in progress, particularly when it comes to his arm slot.
“Thought process. Mechanics. His true velocity. There’s more there,” Nieves said. “I know there’s more there, but the consistency of his delivery will be very important; the throwing. We’re not looking for him to be like Greg Maddux, pinpointing, but the ball to be where he wants to be.”
If the ball starts getting to where Bard wants it to be consistently, then he’ll likely find himself where he wants to be; the majors. Until then, he’ll need to go out and prove he can take all of the advice and tutelage he’s been given, and use it to his advantage.
“Listen, Rome was never built in one day. I think his baby steps will bring him back and I’m sure we’ll see the Bard we’ve seen before,” Nieves said. “I’ve seen incredible, great progress from what I saw on video this past winter of how he pitched last year. Oh my god, tremendous strides.”
The fact that Bard still ended up at Double-A to begin the season despite the “tremendous strides” really highlights the magnitude of his downfall. While in the minors, the right-hander’s mental makeup — which some have questioned in the past — will really be tested. If he passes the test, all parties involved should be better off in the long run.
Class is now in session.