Commentary

Identity crisis catches up to Bard

Sox closer-turned-starter does some soul searching after meltdown vs. Jays

Updated: June 3, 2012, 8:58 PM ET
By Mark Polishuk | Special to ESPNBoston.com

TORONTO -- Daniel Bard the reliever and Daniel Bard the starter are two increasingly different pitchers, to the point of becoming a Jekyll-and-Hyde situation for the Red Sox. Opponents feared seeing Bard come into games out of the Sox bullpen, while Bard has far too often generated fear inside the Red Sox dugout during his starts this season.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Bard
AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Aaron Vincent ElkaimDaniel Bard talks to catcher Kelly Shoppach and pitching coach Bob McClure during his disastrous second inning Sunday.

What Bard wants to do is merge the best of those two personas into one quality starting pitcher.

"I think it's maybe we tried to turn me into a starter rather than take the same pitcher I was out of the 'pen and just move that guy to the rotation," Bard said. "It's all my fault, essentially, so maybe it's just a matter of getting back to what I had success doing in the past."

The right-hander's inconsistency as a starter hit a low point on Sunday as Bard couldn't make it out of the second inning in a 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays. Bard allowed six walks and hit two batters over 1 2/3 innings, also allowing a three-run homer to Jose Bautista that put the Sox behind for good.

After Bard hit Jays DH Edwin Encarnacion on the hand with a pitch, Boston manager Bobby Valentine pulled his starter from the game. He had thrown just 55 pitches. Valentine described his decision almost as an act of mercy for both Bard and for Toronto's lineup.

"He couldn't throw the fastball to the outside part of the plate and they had right-handed hitters coming up," Valentine said. "The last thing I want to do is see anybody get hurt."

The only thing harmed was Bard's stat line, as he is now averaging six-plus walks per nine innings pitched and has more free passes (37) than strikeouts (34). Only five pitchers in baseball have allowed more walks than Bard this season, and only Cleveland's Ubaldo Jimenez has a worse K/BB ratio than Bard's 0.92 mark among qualified starting pitchers.

Bard I think it's maybe we tried to turn me into a starter rather than take the same pitcher I was out of the 'pen and just move that guy to the rotation. It's all my fault, essentially, so maybe it's just a matter of getting back to what I had success doing in the past.

-- Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard

While Bard has battled command issues all season, it seemed as if he was turning things around after posting two wins and a 3.38 ERA over his last two starts.

"I really thought I'd found something in my delivery going into the last [outing]," Bard said. "I saw some improved results. It wasn't perfect, but felt good about how I threw the ball. I tried to carry those same things into today and it didn't go as well."

When asked what adjustments he would make in the wake of this start, Bard said he felt too much adjusting may have been the problem, noting that he "didn't do a lot of thinking as a reliever."

"That's the difference when you're feeling good about your delivery versus when you're not," Bard said. "If you miss with a pitch and you're feeling good, you say 'screw it' and you do everything the exact same and trust that it will go where it's supposed to go. When you're kind of searching for it, you try to tweak something, change something ... and that's where I got caught up today."

Bard's biggest problem is locating the pitch that has traditionally been his best weapon: his fastball. Bard's average fastball velocity is down to 93.3 mph this season from over 97 mph in his previous three seasons, and he is also throwing the pitch less -- just 63.2 percent of his pitches have been fastballs this year, as opposed to 67.9 percent in 2011 and 72.9 percent in both 2009 and 2010.

"I was surprised that it was a different fastball; that wasn't the fastball he had last time. I was hoping he was going to build on that but he wasn't near it," Valentine said. "Daniel just couldn't find it, obviously. I was hoping he was going to find a pitch or a release point that would work for him. ... He threw a couple of pitches that looked decent but he just couldn't repeat them."

Bard seemed ready to embrace a back-to-basics strategy as he tries to figure out his problems. He said he used the time after he came out of the game to review video of his past relief performances and believes he can still find the Dr. Jekyll that was such a dominant setup man for Boston over the previous three seasons.

"The nice thing about having that footage is ... it's video evidence I've done this thousands of times before," Bard said. "We'll figure it out a little more and hopefully come up with something concrete the next few days."

Mark Polishuk is a special contributor to ESPNBoston.com.

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