Daniel Bard Given Great Opportunity But Must Demonstrate Consistency in Return to Red Sox

Daniel BardDaniel Bard’s demotion to Double-A out of spring training seemed to indicate that the right-hander faced a long road back to the majors. Less than a month later, though, Bard is back in Boston.

Bard was recalled by the Red Sox from Double-A Portland on Wednesday, while Steven Wright was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket to make room on the major league roster. The call-up comes about a week after closer Joel Hanrahan was placed on the 15-day disabled list, so it’s a move based heavily on circumstance, but Bard now has a chance to show he is back to being big league ready.

“He’s here to do just that — to perform and to be a regular in our bullpen,” manager John Farrell said before Wednesday’s game when asked if Bard’s call-up was a short-term fix or could lead to him staying with the team long-term.

Obviously, Farrell’s response doesn’t reveal a whole lot about the direction the team will go once Hanrahan — who is scheduled to make a rehab appearance at Triple-A Pawtucket on Friday — returns to the mix. But even if Bard’s first major league stint of 2013 is brief, which seems likely, the 27-year-old at least has an opportunity to showcase the adjustments he’s made since the team broke camp.

Bard’s call-up is a development that’s occurred much earlier than expected. Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves said upon Bard’s demotion to Double-A at the end of March that the righty was more than just a couple of outings away from rejoining the major league club, so it seemed that a call-up wouldn’t come until later in the season. It’s amazing how things can change so quickly.

Bard joins the Red Sox after eight appearances in Portland. He was 0-1 and allowed four earned runs on eight hits in nine innings (4.00 ERA). It’s a small sample, but Farrell expressed optimism about what he’s seen out of Bard thus far in 2013.

“The last three outings he’s been much more consistent, and we’ve made the comment and took the stance in spring training that this is about repeating his delivery,” Farrell said. “It wasn’t so much on the end result, but the results have been there along with the consistent arm slot and the delivery. With our need to add to our bullpen, he’s back here.”

Bard struggled throughout 2012. He was hardly the only Red Sox player to stumble through a disastrous year for the organization, but his issues were particularly alarming. Bard began the season as a starter, and he failed miserably in that role. Eventually, he was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, where his struggles continued.

During spring training this year, Bard started off strong. He seemed to regain some of the velocity he lost, which allowed him to strike hitters out at a higher rate. His production tapered off near the tail end of camp, though, and that led to the demotion to Double-A.

Bard now arrives in Boston with a fastball sitting in the 93-96 mph range. It’s a far cry from where his velocity peaked, but Farrell thinks it’s still a range that most pitchers would love to have.

“If you look back to Daniel’s time here in Boston before starting, when he was in this velocity range, there wasn’t a lot of swing and miss then either,” he said. “It was in that real upper end of the 90-range where a lot of that swing and miss came in, where guys had to really cheat to get the velocity and then the breaking ball became that much more effective. I think we’re looking for a delivery that’s got a reworking to it to add deception. Regardless, we’ve seen it with Joel Hanrahan as well: Location is still the No. 1 element with any pitcher.”

Bard will be asked to pitch in early relief situations. It makes sense given the success Andrew Bailey, Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa have had while manning the later innings. Farrell said that he’d, above all, like to see Bard get acclimated to once again pitching at the major league level.

The important part of Bard’s return, though, is that he shows an ability to get hitters out regardless of the situation. Consistency is paramount, and maintaining a level of consistency (in his delivery and in his results) during the call-up — however long it may be — should go a long way toward restoring confidence for Bard.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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