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Remember Daniel Bard? He was the Boston Red Sox 2006 1st round draft pick out of the University of North Carolina. He had a big arm and was widely regarded as an elite prospect. Initially, he lived up to the hype. From 2009-2011, he was an elite set up man for the Red Sox and one of the most feared pitchers in the MLB. It wasn’t unusual to see his blazing fastball that sometimes hit 100 mph on the radar gun paired with his sharp breaking slider that kept hitters guessing.
In 2010 and 2011, he appeared in over 70 games and led the league in holds both seasons. When Jonathan Papelbon (The team’s closer at the time) was looking for a new contract, many fans and experts believed the Sox could let him go and make Bard the next closer.
Then September of 2011 came along. Like the rest of the Red Sox team, which experienced one of the most epic collapses in MLB history, Bard fell off. His ERA that month was above 10 runs per 9 innings, his record was 0-4, and he seemed to lose all control over his pitches. In a matter of a month, he went from a top set up man in the league to arguably one of the worst, and nobody knows why.
Following that season, the Red Sox decided to move Bard into the starting rotation instead of putting him back as the set up man, a decision that ultimately may have ruined his career. Bard had some decent starts, but he just never looked right there. Bard’s velocity went down considerably and his lack of command made it easy for batters to be patient and sit on his fastball. The result was one sub-par start after another with the tipping point being an outing against Toronto in which he failed to make it out of the 2nd inning while allowing five runs.
The Red Sox sent Bard down to their AAA affiliate Pawtucket so that he could work on his control and get his confidence back. He appeared in 31 games for the Paw Sox with all but one of them being in relief and his ERA was 7.03. That number varies quite a bit from the one the Red Sox wanted to see before bringing him back to the big leagues. Nonetheless, Boston called him up to have an extra arm in the bullpen for the final month or so of the season. The results were no different. Bard appeared in six games, pitched four and a third innings, and allowed nine runs.
After the 2012 season, the Red Sox decided that Bard had not yet proved that he is ready to be in the majors yet. Bard started the season off in AA Portland and once again he produced more of the same: Sky-high walk and ERA rates. However, Boston still gave him another chance in late April, where he pitched in two games, totaling an inning, giving up a run and walking two.
The Sox sent Bard back to Pawtucket after that stint and his performance hit a low point in the month of May. His numbers weren’t just bad, they were embarrassing. Before getting shut down due to an abdominal strain of May 15th, he threw 91 pitches. Just 28 of those were strikes and six of them were wild pitches (Bleacher Report).
Bard was placed on Portland’s disabled list shortly after that game and has not returned to action since then. He will most likely pitch for Portland when he comes back and a return to the big leagues does not appear to be in Bard’s immediate future.
For now, Bard’s story seems to be of a star that could have been and it goes to show that maintaining big league success is far from easy. On the bright side, he is still only 28 years old, so his career isn’t over yet.