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Opinion: Time to shut down Daniel Bard

Over the last year, has any player in this city been the subject of more questions than Daniel Bard [1]?

After being so dominant for much of 2011 — zero runs allowed in June and July — why did he fall off a cliff in playing a lead role in the biggest collapse in baseball history last September?

With no Jonathan Papelbon [2], did Bard have the demeanor (whatever that means) to be a closer?

Starter or reliever?

Who made the decision to make Bard a starter? Was it Cherington, Lucchino, Valentine, Bob McClure (this is still all his fault, right?) or was it actually led by Bard?

What happened to his fastball? Why is it 92, 93 MPH when it used to be 98, 99 MPH?

When are the Sox going to yank him from the rotation and put him back in the eighth-inning role?

His final start of the season — and you have to think it’ll be the last start he ever makes — was a meltdown in Toronto (five runs, six walks, two batters hit in 1.2 IP against the Blue Jays on June 3) that sent him to Pawtucket and led many if not most to ask: Is Daniel Bard ever going to be the same?

Why was there zero improvement in Pawtucket (7.03 ERA, 1.88 WHIP in 32 IP, including an appearance in Charlotte that saw Bard face six batters, giving up a single, recorded a fly out, walked a batter, hit a batter and then walking the next two before being yanked. Twenty-six pitches, nine strikes.)?

Why, on August 20 — after a stretch that saw him walk 12 batters over his prior six appearances in Pawtucket– did Cherington tell us that Bard would definitely be promoted this season?

And now, after allowing three runs and three walks in a third of an inning in the sixth inning of Wednesday night’s 13-3 loss to the Rays, Bard has a 24.33 ERA since being recalled from Pawtucket. He spent three months in Triple-A to “work things out” and returned exactly the same pitcher we saw in Toronto on June 3.

Which leads, inevitably, to more questions.

Is Daniel Bard ruined? Can this career be salvaged? And how badly have the Sox bungled the entire process?

It’s uncomfortable at best to see Bard struggle like this. Even those who strongly advocated against moving Bard out of the bullpen and into the rotation (Full Disclosure: I was for the move, figured a potential No. 2 or No. 3 starter under club control was tougher to find than a top reliever, or at least more valuable) could never have imagined the worst-case scenario occuring, but here we are.

There’s still time to re-write the ending, of course, but if you somehow stumbled over to NESN on Wednesday and watched Bard throw 16 hopeless pitches (four strikes) you saw Steve Blass, you saw Rick Ankiel [3]. That’s the reality of the situation with Bard, who was one of the half dozen best relief pitchers in baseball 13 months ago.

Probably everything seemed real easy when things were good. But now Bard is as lost as a pitcher can be, buried in the weeds with seemingly no way out. Each time he seems to hit bottom — Toronto, Charlotte, Wednesday night — there is another disaster looming, another confirmation that there is every reason to doubt if this will ever be a major-league pitcher again, forget an elite one.

I understand the Sox are in a tough spot with Bard here. They want his season to end on something that looks like progress, and Wednesday doesn’t exactly qualify. But it’s time to shut Bard down, let his miserable season finally end. There is zero benefit to dragging him out two or three times over the last 12 games. None. We’ve seen the evidence, we have a sample size. I have no idea if shutting him down will reap long-term benefits. It might not. But I know the solution isn’t pitching him again this season.

Let it end, at least for now. Hope he can figure it out in the offseason, hope something clicks, even hope there is some injury that surfaces that explains the staggering loss of velocity and control. At least it would help solve the biggest mystery of 2012 for the Red Sox [4], no small feat with this bunch.

What has happened to Daniel Bard?