PAWTUCKET â Daniel Bard could have taken the easy way out.
He could have tucked himself away in the trainerâs room, or if he wanted to be out of complete sight, he could have hid in the indoor batting tunnels or some other out-of-the-way location in McCoy Stadium.
Instead, the embattled starting pitcher faced the media in the Pawtucket Red Soxâs weight room at 5 p.m. sharp Thursday, discussing his recent demotion from Boston and the mechanical issues that have plagued him.
Itâs been a difficult year for Bard, who for the past two seasons, was deemed one of the finest setup relievers in the American League, but this year, opted to convert to a starter.
In 55 innings spanning 11 appearances, 10 of them starts, Bard (5-6) struck out 37 batters, walked 34, and posted a 5.24 ERA and 1.62 WHIP that were among the worst marks for A.L. starters.
Bard was four days removed from his worst outing as a starter in a 5-1 loss in Toronto to the Blue Jays. In just 1 2/3 innings, he walked six batters and hit two others with pitches, as he only threw 24 of his 55 pitches for strikes. He gave up one hit, but it was a three-run homer to Jose Bautista.
A day later, he found out that he was being optioned to Pawtucket during a meeting with Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine and general manager Ben Cherington. The gameplan was to allow him to continue his development as a starter, but work in shorter, more frequent outings.
âBasically, they said, âWe can keep throwing you out there every five days, and we know youâll keep battling and probably give us a chance to win most of the time, ââ recalled Bard, who was last in Pawtucket in May, 2009.
âWhat it came down was theyâve seen me pitch the last three years and Iâve been one of the better setup guys in the league. But the pitcher theyâve seen the last three years hasnât been the guy theyâve seen for most of the season this year.â
And Bard wonât have to wait very long to get his feet wet with the PawSox. He will get the start in tonightâs 7:05 p.m. series finale with the Indianapolis Indians â but heâs only expected to pitch an inning.
âIâm going to probably come back two or three days after that, throw again, and pitch a couple of shorter outings,â added Bard. âI just want to basically try to recapture a couple of things mechanically that Iâve been searching for, and as soon as those click, weâre going to stretch it back out.
âIf I go out there tomorrow, throw five innings, and basically feel the same as I have my last couple of outings, Iâm kind of wasting bullets. But if I go an inning or two, feel locked in, and everything feels good, and I do it again a couple of days later and still feel good, then weâll stretch it out.â
As a reliever in the last three seasons with Boston, Bard was known for his high velocity (95-98 mph) and his near 3-to-1 ratio in strikeouts (213) and walks (76), but that seemed to evaporate in his conversion from the bullpen to the rotation.
âI think we just came into spring training and thought, âHow do we need to change everything Iâve done so I could fit the starting role?â â added Bard. âWe tweaked a lot of things mechanically, trying to simplify me and get the best windup that I could be comfortable with, and we probably did a little too much.
âOnce I got two or three weeks into the season, I had a couple of good starts, but I still didnât feel like myself, like the pitcher Iâve been for the last three years. My mechanics were so different.â
Another thing tossed around in Bardâs Monday meeting with Valentine and Cherington was his feelings about his new role as a starter, and Bard said he was still 100 percent behind his conversion.
âThey asked me how I felt with the starter/reliever thing and I said I still feel like I could do either one,â admitted Bard. âIf I felt I had been pitching what had been my best in the starterâs role for the past two months and putting up the same numbers, Iâd probably say, âLetâs can it.â
âBut I know I havenât pitched as well as Iâm capable of [pitching], so if I fix this mechanical thing, I should be fine.â
Before Bard packed his belongings and drove down Route 95 to Pawtucket, he started his road back to the majors by working with pitching coach Bob McClure, watching videos of himself, and trying to find ways to correct his mechanics. A strong bullpen session at Fenway Park yesterday also went a long way to help his confidence.
âI felt like that was a big step in the right direction,â said Bard. âIt simplified things for me and made me feel like my old self.â
While Bard was pleased with his session in Boston, he hoped that he could stay there and work out his flaws, not get sent down to Pawtucket to do so. Unfortunately for him, his wish was not granted.
âIt wasnât my decision,â added Bard. âIâm just an employee here. Obviously, Iâm not thrilled with it, and if it was me making the decision, it would have been different. But I was respectful about it, and once I get the anger and stuff out of the way, the disappointment, Iâll just have to make the best out of the situation.
âBut I told them straight up, âItâs not going to take me long to figure things out,ââ said Bard. âOnce it clicks, it clicks.â