ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Even as the Red Sox celebrated their 9-2 victory on Wednesday night, there was a disconcerting development elsewhere in the organization. Daniel Bard had a dreadful outing in Double-A Portland, walking five batters and throwing just eight of 30 pitches for strikes, the latest episode in what has become a progressively worse struggle to find the strike zone.
Bard threw strikes on just 27 percent of his pitches on Wednesday, his worst percentage of any outing in the last two years. In five appearances since returning to Double-A after a brief promotion to the big leagues, Bard has now thrown strikes on just 34 percent of his pitches. He’s walked 13 in 3 2/3 innings.
Word of the most recent derailment took little time to reach Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves.
“I’m concerned over, of course, how he’s doing mentally,” said Nieves. “You’re always concerned about a guy’s mental state when he’s engaged in an at-bat and doesn’t do well. It continues to be the same thing.”
That Bard has seen his performance take such a frightful turn in such a short period of time is somewhat stunning. When he was called up to the big leagues at the end of April, team officials thought there was a chance that he could pitch his way back into a regular role in the bullpen. Now, it would be difficult to imagine Bard seeming more distant from a return to the big leagues.
But Nieves suggested that the idea that Bard’s performance has not been on a steady upward trajectory is not unexpected, given his struggles of a year ago.
“It was never going to be a quick fix with him, because of the residue of everything that has happened through a whole year of battle. It’s going to take some time,” he said. “I think the strength is there, the arm strength is there, it’s a matter of him buying into it and creating some consistency. You know what it comes down to? Him not thinking about hitters or anything like that, just hit the glove, hit the glove, hit the glove. Let the stuff play. His stuff is too unbelievable to be turned off, or to be aware of, oh my God I’m going to get hit, except he’s not getting hit, because he’s walking guys.”
The Sox had remained committed to keeping Bard on a regular schedule in Portland. His outing on Wednesday came with three days off. Alterations to his plan in the minors — whether to the venue where he’s pitching or the way the team approaches his scheduled outings or … something now seems inevitable.
“We’ll have to look into the next step and we’ll have another plan for him,” said the Sox pitching coach. “Staying the course, but we might add some things. We’ll get together and talk about it and I’m sure there’s going to be a conference call. We’ll talk about it.”
One thing that Nieves made clear is that he did not see value in having Bard shut down for a stretch of time. That, the pitching coach believed, would be counterproductive in the effort to get the pitcher back on track in his career.
“Backing off, I never want to back off a guy. He’s not that type of guy,” said Nieves. “He’s the kind of guy, throw your stuff over the plate and it will play.”
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