June 19, 2014

Loss Of Control: Daniel Bard's Nightmare Continues

Former Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard has been pitching for the Hickory (North Carolina) Crawdads, the Class A affiliate of the Texas Rangers in the South Atlantic League. And he remains plagued by the control problems that have tormented him since the tail end of the 2012 season.

In four appearances this month with the Crawdads, Bard has faced 18 batters, walking nine and hitting seven. He has recorded only two outs, while allowing 13 runs.

That's a stunning and nearly unbelievable reversal from the tremendous success he enjoyed as a reliever with the Red Sox in 2010 and 2011. Before the 2012 season, he asked the team to start and began the year in the rotation. Bard posted a 5.30 ERA in his first 10 starts; in 54.1 innings, he walked 36 and hit eight, while striking out only 34.

On June 3, Bard issued three walks in the first inning against the Blue Jays in Toronto. He walked three more and hit two others before being pulled with two outs the second inning. The Red Sox sent him down to Pawtucket four days later. Bard has never been the same since.

Bard appeared in 31 games for Pawtucket in 2012, all but one of them out of the bullpen. In 32 innings, he allowed 31 hits, 29 walks, and 29 runs, while striking out 32. His ERA was 7.03. He returned to the Red Sox for six appearances towards the end of the 2012 season. He allowed at least one run in five of those six outings. He allowed 8 hits and 6 walks in only 4.1 innings.

Bard began 2013 in Portland (AA). After eight outings, he was called up to the big club. While Bard did fine in one inning against the Astros on April 25, two days later (April 27), he walked two Houston batters on nine pitches. He was quickly optioned back to Portland.

Bard pitched five more times for the Sea Dogs, including on May 15, when he walked five of the eight batters he faced. The Red Sox eventually shut him down, saying he had an oblique strain. Overall, in 12.2 innings in 13 games for Portland, he issued 17 walks and allowed 13 hits.

Bard next pitched in late August - and his career spiraled down even further. In two Gulf Coast League games and one outing for Lowell (Rookie League), Bard faced 17 batters and walked 10 of them. He also threw three wild pitches.

The Red Sox put Bard on outright waivers and he was claimed by the Chicago Cubs and their GM (and former Boston GM) Theo Epstein. Bard did not appear in any games - majors or minors - for the Cubs.

In November 2013, Bard was pitching for Criollos de Caguas in the Puerto Rican Winter League. He pitched in three games and retired only one of 13 batters. He walked nine, hit three, threw four wild pitches, and allowed eight runs. The Cubs non-tendered Bard on December 2.

In early January 2014, Bard had thoracic outlet surgery (which involves removing a rib). A few weeks later, the rangers took a chance and signed Bard to a minor league deal, and he began working out in Arizona.

Bard was assigned in early June to the Crawdads of the South Atlantic League. Rangers pitching coordinator Danny Clark said: "His velocity has been 94-97 mph, and in his last outing in Arizona he showed improved consistency with his command. We're excited to see him under the lights. We should know more after he gets 2-3 outings under his belt."

Bard has had four outings:

June 5: Bard begins the eighth inning with a 6-2 lead. He hits the first two batters, issues a walk to load the bases, then hits a third batter, forcing in a run.

June 7: Called on to protect a 5-1 lead, Bard hits his first batter and walks the next two. With the bases loaded, he strikes out a batter looking, but then walks in a run. The next batter grounds back to Bard, who fires to second for a force play as another run scores. Bard walks his fourth batter of the inning. He is eventually charged with four runs.

June 10: Hickory leads 8-3 in the sixth inning. Bard issues a five-pitch walk and a first-pitch HBP. After a mound visit, he walks another batter and is sent to the showers. Two of the runners later score.

June 15: Bard begins the sixth inning with a 13-0 lead over the Lakewood Blueclaws. His four batters: BB, HBP, HBP, BB. The three inherited runners later score, so Bard is charged with four runs.

18 batters faced: 2 outs, 9 walks, 7 HBP. 13 runs allowed. (Against Class A hitters.)

I just read that the Rangers released Bard today. At this point, it looks like what could have been a superlative major league career is over. Would another major league club roll the dice with such a confounding reclamation project?

(By the way, the theory that turning Bard into a starter somehow messed with his control is not borne out by the game-by-game evidence. Bard's wildness actually began in September 2011, when he had a 10.64 ERA in 11 bullpen innings, giving up 11 hits and issuing nine walks.)

Perhaps this depressing and rapid devolution of Bard's skills is simply "one of those things" that happens to some players - such as Steve Blass and Rick Ankiel - some mysterious physical or mental change that thoroughly stumps the suffering player. With a serious injury, a player is presented with a clear physical reason why he can no longer run or hit or throw. In rare cases like this, where there appears to be no rational explanation at all, thinking about the path his career has taken must be torture.

Bard will turn 29 on June 25.


Kathryn said...

This is so sad.

hrstrat57 said...

I saw him in a game at Fenway in May 2011. Everything about the appearance was textbook...absolutely brilliant. His colossal baseball demise is one of the most bizarre things ever.

Hopefully he saved enough dough to have a decent post baseball life. Seemed like a real nice guy too....

laura k said...

I can't imagine having everything you've worked for all your life suddenly disappearing... before the age of 30. To find any happiness, he'll probably have to completely reinvent himself.