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MLB Analysis: What Can the Boston Red Sox Do About Daniel Bard?

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What would you do if you had lightning in  a bottle, but the bottle was cracked? Probably try to apply some heavy duty glue first, but if that didn’t work, what choice is there? If it’s cracked, and you can’t fix it, you’ve got to throw out the bottle.

Enter Daniel Bard, the man the Red Sox drafted in the first round of the MLB Draft in 2006, the man who made a name for himself as one of baseball’s elite set-up men from 2009-11, the man who the Red Sox didn’t trust to take over the vacant closer’s role this season, and the man who now looks as confused on the mound as Clint Eastwood’s neighbors in Gran Torino did the first time they met Clint.

Everybody knew the Bard experiment was just that – an experiment. But nobody knew that it was going to one of those experiments that blew up before it ever got out of a beaker. If Bard’s last start showed us anything, it was that his foray into the world of Major League starting pitching has been a colossal failure, and the sample size isn’t really that small anymore.

Bard has made 10 starts this season, most of which have been bad, but none of which have been anything quite like the showing he had on Sunday against the Blue Jays. It was overshadowed by Tiger Woods’ win at the Memorial and the Celtics win over the Heat that night, but Bard’s absolute meltdown on the mound was hard to watch. Scratch that – it was impossible to watch.

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This judge looked an inmate square in the eyes and did something that left the entire courtroom in tears:

It was torture. President Obama should get a video of Bard’s start and show it to potential terrorists instead of waterboarding them, and it will have the exact same effect (although the Bard video would be even less humane).

Bard pitched 1.2 innings against the Blue Jays and allowed just one hit. Granted, that hit was a monster home run by Jose Bautista in the first inning, but pitchers miss with the occasional pitch. The one hit – even if it was practically hit out of the entire stadium – can be forgiven. The other stats, though, they cannot be.

He walked six men, hit two others and gave up five runs. He threw 55 pitches, only 24 of which were for strikes. Essentially, he went Rick Ankiel on us and couldn’t get it back, so Bobby Valentine had to pull him before he could get out of the second inning.

According to ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Edes, no pitcher has walked six men and hit two others in less than two innings since 1918. So, looking at it that way, Daniel Bard had one of the single worst starts that any pitcher in the history of baseball has ever had on Sunday, and he did so while allowing just one hit.

Let that sink in a little bit, then try to make an argument that Bard still belongs in the Red Sox’ rotation.

You can’t do it.

Baseball people don’t like to admit when they screw up. It’s the reason that John Lackey was still pitching every fifth day these last two years – they paid him a ton of money, so goddamnit he was going to pitch. Simple as that. To bench him, or cut him, or trade him would be to admit defeat.

Right now, Bard is John Lackey-bad, and the Sox would be wise to admit defeat immediately. And by immediately, I mean before he throws another pitch in a Major League game.

In the 11 appearances Bard has made this year, he has an ERA of 5.24 and a record of 5-6. But again, those are far from the most alarming statistics. How about these: he’s walked 38 men in 55 innnings. He’s pitched at least six innings just four times, and only twice has he made it through seven. In six of his starts, he’s walked at least four guys.

He’s been bad, no matter how you look at it. On Sunday, having him on the mound was a threat to the Blue Jays’ health. Bard had no idea where the ball was going, and neither did the hitters, setting up an eerie situation where every single pitch had about a 10-percent chance of smashing into the side of someone’s helmet. Even breaking balls were no where near the plate. When Bard did throw a strike, it was completely by accident.

Maybe Bobby Valentine was right when he wanted Bard to start the year in the bullpen. Instead, general manager Ben Cherinton steadfastly refused and forced Bard’s path into the rotation, and here we are. Although, realistically, who’s to say Bard would have been any better in the bullpen this season. He wasn’t exactly pitching like Joe Page last September.

I think that’s the very root of the problem. It started last September, and the Red Sox are obviously very aware of it – Bard is about a fragile as they come. He’s not mentally tough, and when things go south they continue to trend downwards because he doesn’t have the mental fortitude to will them back in the other direction. It’s a nice way of saying he’s soft.

If he wasn’t soft, he would have been handed the closer’s role this year, right? That’s what he was being groomed for the three years prior to now. He had his cozy little eighth inning – devoid of a ton of pressure, but still similar enough to a closer’s role that it was like training – and when Jonathan Papelbon walked, Bard should have been the guy for the job.

Only, he wasn’t, and the Sox instead traded for an oft-injured guy who hadn’t pitched a full season in three years (Andrew Bailey). If that doesn’t show a lack of confidence in Bard, then what does it show? That they had a plan for him to be a starter all along? Bullshit. The reason he’s in the rotation is because he isn’t cut out to close, and the rotation itself was in shambles before the season. The team needed all the arms it could get to start games, and even though Bard might be lacking that big league make-up, he’s not lacking a big league arm.

So they moved him to the rotation this year, hoping they could catch the aforementioned lightning in a bottle. The tools were all there – young, tall, hard throwing, tons of late late movement, and it was in a low-pressure situation – it was just a matter of making them work. They had the lightning, and they had the bottle. They just needed to combine the two.

Well they did, except Bard can’t find a way to stay in the bottle. His velocity is frighteningly down, and whether that’s because he’s making a concerted effort to conserve energy so he can go deep into starts, or it’s the sign of arm troubles, it’s still not good. You don’t go from throwing nearly 100 – which is the biggest reason he was effective in the first place – to throwing 92 and still expect the same results.

Instead, what you get is what we’ve gotten so far – a pitcher who nibbles and picks and somehow throw 110 pitches over the course of five innings. Then, when he’s a little off, nibbling doesn’t work anymore, and he goes completely off the reservation and starts firing pitches into the opposite side batter’s box.

So what do you do? You can’t abandon the guy yet – there’s too much talent there. But you can’t let him keep pitching for the Major League team, because you’re trying to win now. When Bard steps on the mound, not only does the team fall behind in terms of actual runs, but they fall behind for the next week because the bullpen gets so taxed. The team can’t be successful if it has to bail Bard out every five days, and Bard isn’t going to get any better if he keeps pitching like this and getting ripped apart by the media on a regular basis.

You can’t put him back in the bullpen because 1. there’s no guarantee that he’ll suddenly be able to throw strikes again and 2. the bullpen has been so good, where would you put him? You certainly can’t just unseat Vicente Padilla and throw Bard into the eighth inning role. There’s no place for Daniel Bard right now, at least in Boston.

I may not be the first to recommend it, but I’ll second the notion of whoever did say it first: Bard needs to go down to Pawtucket. That’s how you try to fix up the bottle. It might be a hard pill to swallow for him, but trust me, watching him labor on the mound is much, much harder for everybody else. Plus, it’s not like it would be unprecedented. Established Major Leaguers regress from time to time, and sometimes the best way to get them turned around is put them in a pressure-free environment and let them work it out.

Really, it’s the only solution. He’s so talented, but he’s not an effective baseball player right now. In fact, he’s a historically bad baseball player right now, and that’s not going to help the Red Sox win anything.

Plus, if he stays in the rotation, I’m going to have to start waterboarding myself every fifth day. I’d rather just be able to watch the games. Move him to Triple-A, for everybody’s sake.

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