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Opinion: Is Daniel Bard a lost cause?

06.30.12 at 11:20 am ET
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Full disclosure: I was in the camp that believed moving Daniel Bard to the starting rotation was a risk worth taking. Potential upside, a good starting pitcher is more valuable than even a very good reliever, if it fails he can always go back to the ‘pen, all the same stuff you heard from everyone else supporting the move in the offseason.

Well, it turns out I was wrong, Ben Cherington was wrong and Daniel Bard was wrong.

Bard was a flop as a starter, a complete wipeout. In 55 innings pitched he allowed 32 earned runs (5.24 ERA), walked 37 batters, hit eight batters and struck out just 34 guys (he had never been below a K an inning as a reliever). The velocity was down and the command was nonexistent.

His final start — five runs, six walks, two batters hits in 1.2 IP against the Blue Jays on June 3 — was confirmation. Fair or not, enough of a sample size or not, Daniel Bard was going back to the bullpen. OK, the Sox sent him down to Pawtucket two days after the start in Toronto to “work things out,” with no comment on if he’d be a starter or reliever when he got back to Boston, but the ultimate conclusion was obvious.

When Daniel Bard returned, he’d be back in the bullpen. No question about it.

But after nearly a month in Pawtucket, the question has changed.

Has the failed conversion to starter ruined Daniel Bard?

One year ago, Bard was maybe the best relief pitcher in baseball, at least in the top dozen or so. A year ago today, he pitched a scoreless inning against the Phillies, completing a June that saw him allow no runs and four hits in 13.0 innings pitched. That was followed by another scoreless month in July.

This June? Bard has a 7.15 ERA in 11.1 innings for Triple-A Pawtucket, with eight walks and four batters hit.

And Friday night was the bottom (to date, anyway) for Bard. He faced six Charlotte batters and gave up a single, recorded a fly out, walked a batter, hit a batter and then walked the next two before being yanked.

Twenty-six pitches, nine strikes.

Look, maybe Bard will figure it all out and be OK. But it’s fair to at least wonder if we are in Act I of another Steve Sax, Rick Ankiel or Chuck Knoblauch. Again, maybe something clicks and he’s the Bard of last summer, but haven’t seen this story enough times to at least have some pause? Are you convinced that Bard will be an elite major-league reliever again? Because right now — and I’m assuming he’s physically healthy, there’s no way the Sox would be trotting him out to pitch like this in Pawtucket if he was hurt — he’s a terrible minor-league reliever.

Right now, this story isn’t tracking much. We look at the box scores and shake our heads, but other issues are pressing. Plus this: The Sox bullpen has been terrific the last two months, so Bard hasn’t been missed all that much. But what happens if Matt Albers or Scott Atchison or Andrew Miller come back to what they’ve been before this season, which I hate to tell you isn’t exactly out of the realm of possibility? What happens when the 2012 Red Sox need Daniel Bard?

There’s no way to answer that. The Red Sox took a chance and it has backfired spectacularly and with ramifications that could last long past this season. The story just seems to get uglier and uglier with each outing. Because right now Daniel Bard finds himself lost in the tall grass. Others have been there and not found their way out.

Will Bard? Impossible to predict. It sure doesn’t look good, but I’ve been wrong about him before.

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