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Friday marks six weeks since Daniel Bard made his first appearance of the season for the Pawtucket Red Sox. Readers of this site were last updated on Bard’s performance after his July 5th meltdown in Rochester, during which he beaned two Red Wings and uncorked two wild pitches. His ERA stood at 8.78 after the game. Since then, Bard has played in five games, pitching one inning in each. Here are the results:
Bard struck out Chris Marrero swinging, got Jim Negrych to pop out to second, and struck out Jesus Valdez looking for a 1-2-3 eighth. See? Pitching can be fun when you’re not hitting batters!
With Pawtucket already losing 6-0, Bard entered the game for the eighth and struck out Matt den Dekker – and that’s when the fun began. Josh Satin drew a five-pitch walk, and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Bard then served up another free pass to Valentino Pascucci and another wild pitch to put runners on second and third with one out. Matt Tuiasosopo grounded out to drive in Satin, but Bard induced Rob Johnson to pop out in McCoy Stadium’s spacious foul territory to get out of the inning with minimal damage.
Bard fell behind in the count to the first two hitters of the eighth but bounced back to get each to ground out. Jason Bay walked and stole second against his former teammate, but Adam Loewen grounded out to allow Bard to escape the inning with the score still tied at four.
Bard entered the game in the seventh with 6-0 lead, but stemmed the flow of fans to the exits by walking leadoff man Carlos Rivero and serving up a two-run tater to Brett Carroll. Koyie Hill singled and Bard thew another wild pitch before getting Corey Brown and Jarrett Hoffpauir to ground out to end the inning.
Bard came in for the eighth with the score tied at three. A single and a sacrifice bunt put the go-ahead run in scoring position. Brett Carroll struck out for the second out, but Carlos Rivero walked to extend the inning. After falling behind in the count, Bard struck out Jarrett Hoffpauir for another nail-biter of a scoreless inning.
Over the five game stretch, Bard has lowered his ERA to a still-high 7.85. To paraphrase John Lennon, he’s getting better, but he couldn’t get any worse.
OK, enough numbers. What is actually wrong with Daniel? Why hasn’t he succeeded despite moving back to the bullpen, where he was supposed to be more comfortable?
I believe the answer is two-fold: He isn’t throwing strikes, and he isn’t throwing hard enough. (With that brilliant piece of analysis, I should replace Orel Hershiser on Sunday Night Baseball.) Let’s talk about each of these problems separately.
First, his control problems. I haven’t watched Daniel warm up in the bullpen, but I assume that he has no problems hitting the bullpen catcher’s glove. So for him to miss Ryan Lavarnway’s (or Mike Rivera’s) targets such a high percentage of the time, it seems that it must be a mental problem. Perhaps Bard should ask Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who had problems with throwing the ball back to the pitcher before being traded to the Red Sox, for help. Regardless, his BB/9 of 7.3 must be halved if he wants to have a shot at success at any level.
Second, his once prolific speed just isn’t there. When he was a starter, it was understandable that Bard would have to tone down his fastball in order to work deep into games, though somewhat disconcerting that he couldn’t dial up the velocity when he needed a K. Now working as a reliever, he isn’t really throwing harder. As far as I can tell, the fastest pitch that Bard has thrown with Pawtucket was “only” 96 MPH. He hit that speed, as far as I know, once. His heat has been sitting at 93-95 MPH. This decrease in speed hasn’t affected his strikeout rate, but it has caused his H/9 to spike to 8.3, compared to a career average of 6.6. It’s simply much easier to catch up to a 95 MPH fastball than a 101 MPH fastball.
I believe that even if Daniel only fixed one of the two problems, he would be a successful reliever. His off speed pitches are good enough that if he recovered his control, he could get many batters out with a fastball of “only” 95 MPH. And, if his fastball regained its lost digit, batters would make contact so rarely that he could pitch around a high walk rate. Also, you can’t discount the “you can’t see it and you don’t know where it’s going” factor that Nolan Ryan and Pedro Martinez worked to their advantage.
All I did was say what needs to be fixed; I don’t know how to fix them. I assume that Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Sauveur works with Bard on mechanics and whatever else makes a pitcher tick. Manager Arnie Beyeler will keep sending him out there for the seventh or eighth inning because it’s what the NESV brain trust wants him to do. For the foreseeable future, Daniel Bard will be toiling away in Pawtucket, both the Texan and the city a shadow of their former glory.