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McGair: It's time to give Bard a definite path

June 11, 2012

Daniel Bard

Through all the video and bullpen sessions along with everything else geared toward the task of Reconstruction: The Daniel Bard Story, there’s one loose end left.
What exactly is Bard’s mound assignment moving forward – starter or reliever? Judging by the early returns in his minor-league stint with the PawSox, such a pretty important clarification appears to have been left off the struggling pitcher’s itinerary, the one that the Red Sox brain trust undoubtedly compiled and left atop Bard’s equipment bag as he packed up his Fenway Park locker.
Here’s the main reason why such curiosity exists in the first place. In two appearances with the Triple-A ball club, Bard has moonlighted as both a pitcher who starts games and as a pitcher who pitches late in games.
Last Friday evening, the 26-year-old began warming up for his start – a term we use in the loosest of ways, as you’ll shortly discover – about 40 minutes prior to a scheduled 7:05 first pitch. Under most circumstances, we wouldn’t find fault with Bard taking a page from Daisuke Matsuzaka’s pregame routine that is comparable to last week’s long and drawn-out budget discussions at the State House.
Our morbid curiosity was raised, however, after Bard’s outing was caput following the top of the first inning. He threw 26 pitches, a sum that was routine when he served as an eighth-inning bridge to Jonathan Papelbon. A case of déjà vu was expected Monday, but late in the afternoon, word came down that Billy Buckner would draw the nod against Gwinnett with Bard to follow in relief.
See McGAIR, page C3
Summarizing the situation to date, it appears Bard has been reduced to a virtual yo-yo and toyed with to the point that you can’t help but feel confused by the situation.
And if you think we’re perplexed, you should hear from the primary subject himself.
“I’ve talked to (the Red Sox) about the purpose behind the short starts and that maybe I could get these short stints out of the way through the bullpen in order to get that feel back,” Bard was saying following a recent bullpen session, “but I’m not sure what we’re going to do yet.”
Instead of clarity, we are engulfed by a pea-soup fog that could have been easily cut through had the Red Sox chartered a course that included one clear-cut and definitive path for Bard to follow.
Obviously, regaining velocity and curbing his wild ways represents two of the main hurdles for Bard to overcome in his time with Pawtucket, however long his stint may be. Yet while he works on refining the finer points of his craft, the powers-that-be should barricade themselves inside the club’s Yawkey Way offices and not come out until arriving at a definitive answer to the main issue surrounding the Daniel Bard conundrum.
Until those wheels are put in motion, those aforementioned questions – should he start or should he relieve? – will continue to linger and hover over Bard’s head.
Red Sox officials have been calling the shots since the moment it was announced that Bard would be relocated into the starting rotation and have stayed true to form since deeming him too much of a big-league flight risk. Bard is being told what to do, hence the “I’m just an employee here” comment he made last Thursday while flanked by media types in the PawSox’s weight room. Such a statement reveals the strings attached to Bard with the Red Sox playing the role of Geppetto.
It was clear that Bard was in need of a minor-league checkup, but as he expressed to reporters recently the desire to take the same skills and mindset that paved the way for him to become one of the top setup men in the game and in turn incorporate them into his starter’s gig, Boston should have removed the guesswork and made Bard either a starter or a reliever upon demoting him to Pawtucket.
If Bard is still regarded as a starting pitcher, why not restrain him to a workload of 75-80 pitches or five innings? If relieving – which in this scribe’s opinion might represent the best avenue, at least for the balance of the 2012 season – is deemed the job description, why not deploy him in situations that would enable Bard to get reacquainted with the facet of the game that saw him enjoy unprecedented success the past few seasons?
“Definitely, sure,” responded Bard when asked if he sees himself returning to the rotation upon getting recalled. In the same train of thought, Bard said, “Once they decide I’m ready, whatever the team needs, I guess.
“Once I get that aggressive mindset back, I don’t think it matters what role I’m in once everything clicks,” Bard continued.
You can’t serve both masters of the pitching equation. Remember in 2007 when Papelbon was penciled in as a starter after posting gaudy numbers as a rookie closer the previous year? With spring training nearing the end, Papelbon went to Terry Francona and expressed his desire to return to the bullpen.
Basically what Papelbon was saying is that even though there were concerns about his shoulder, he was willing to put team needs ahead of his own health. Sure, remaining a starter would have translated into a more lucrative payback, yet as Papelbon demonstrated last winter, there’s a market for frontline closers.
We’ve seen Bard start games for the Red Sox and we’ve seen him pitch with the game on the line. We’ve formulated the opinion that it’s high time for the team to ditch the idea of him starting and return Bard to where he was most effective for the team’s betterment, which if you remove all dollar signs from the equation is exactly what Papelbon did five years ago.
The question, “Daniel Bard: bullpen or starter?” has become as commonplace as “Democrat or Republican?” or “Coke or Pepsi?” With the latter two queries, you trigger responses of the quick-to-the-point variety, as there’s no such thing as a middle ground. In the case of Bard, we’re still waiting for everything to come into focus.

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