Daniel Bard’s downward spiral

Daniel Bard, in better days.

Daniel Bard, in better days.

A few days ago, a friend sent me a text that got me just about as depressed as a text about baseball can make me:

“Just heard Daniel Bard’s line in the Gulf Coast League. 6 batters faced, 5 BB, 4 SB, 2 WP. It’s over.”

It was more of the same on Saturday, when Bard, pitching in Lowell in the New York-Penn League, walked four in one inning with two strikeouts and a wild pitch.

And with that went just about any shred of hope I’d had that maybe Daniel Bard could regain his stranglehold on the Red Sox bullpen. That much was confirmed earlier, when the Red Sox, needing a spot on their 40-man roster, designated him for assignment.

Bard, at his finest, was a throwback to the firemen relievers of the 1970s and ’80s, running in when the Sox were in their worst jams and overpowering batters until the inning was over. Terry Francona didn’t care if it was the eighth inning or the sixth; if the game was on the line, Bard came in and put out the flames.

He had a rough September in 2011, but except for Marco Scutaro, just about everyone in Boston did. But the real struggles came the next season as he struggled through spring training, got demoted before June, and worked through his problems with control in the minors without much progress. It was more of the same this year, where he didn’t make the team out of spring training, was sent to AA Portland, and from there, the disabled list and eventually the Gulf Coast League.

Other fire-breathing relievers have withered out without explanation before, but I didn’t want to believe that it would happen to Bard.

I’ve seen the numbers and I understand the belief that even a mediocre starter is more valuable than a late-inning reliever, but I don’t buy it. Not all innings and outs are created equal, and it’s much easier to find a guy to fill out the bottom of a rotation than it is to find that pitcher that can come in on a moment’s notice and kill a rally. It’s two different jobs, and fewer guys have been able to do the latter consistently.

Now, Bard’s in a spot where he can’t seem to do either, and it’s a shame. 28 years old, and he’s staring into the light with his major league career behind him. The highlights are gone, replaced by depressing stat lines and memories of what could’ve been.


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