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January 22, 2013

Daniel Bard
The Associated Press

Daniel Bard was a promising young reliever in 2010, then fell apart when the Sox made him a starter last year.

Tom Caron: Can Bard regain his 2010 form?

Red Sox pitchers and catchers report in 21 days.

That's important to note as you try to avoid the endless coverage of Harbaugh-palooza and 24/7 tributes to Ray Lewis. Football season is over in these parts, and it's time to look forward.

New Red Sox manager John Farrell has been looking forward to the start of camp in Fort Myers since October.

His spring training roster is just about set, and the former pitching coach believes his staff will be much better than the one that led the Red Sox to their worst record in 47 years.

It certainly seems the bullpen will be improved with the additions of Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara.

They'll join Andrew Bailey, Junichi Tazawa, Franklin Morales and Craig Breslow to make up a group that should allow Farrell to remove a starting pitcher at the first signs of trouble.

Will Daniel Bard be a part of that group? That might be the most difficult thing to predict heading into baseball season.

A year ago, Bard was one of the most promising late-inning relievers in the game.

Now the 27-year-old has to be wondering if he'll stick with the big club this year.

Farrell has seen the good and bad of Bard.

As his pitching coach in 2010, Farrell watched the righty strike out 76 batters in 742/3 innings while posting an impressive 1.93 ERA for Boston.

There was talk that he was the team's closer of the future. Instead, the Red Sox made him a starter in 2012.

To be kind, we'll just say it didn't go well.

In 2012, Bard had the type of season a New Englander wouldn't wish on Bernard Pollard. He posted a 6.22 ERA with a WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) of 1.736.

Farrell had a front-row look at Bard's worst day as a professional, when he started against Farrell's Blue Jays in Toronto. He started the game by walking three of the first four batters he faced. The other hit a home run.

Things actually got worse in the second inning when he walked three more and hit two. He gave up five earned runs and got just five outs on the day. He was soon demoted to Triple A Pawtucket, where he went 3-2, pitching 32 innings in 31 games.

Last weekend, Farrell visited Bard in Mississippi with pitching coach Juan Nieves.

They watched him throw. What they saw, and what they see next month in Florida, will tell them a lot about how good this bullpen will be in 2013.

"I think as a starter last year he tried to manipulate the ball a little bit too much," said Farrell late last week.

"Maybe a little bit too fine in ways where he was trying to induce a ground ball a lot rather than staying with that aggressive approach that has made him successful in Boston."

Farrell believes he and Nieves can get Bard back to basics and help him become an effective big leaguer again.

"I'm not going to say time cures all," said Farrell.

"We're not just going to put his challenges aside and pretend that they didn't happen. But I think as he's gotten further away from it he's had a fresh outlook to this.

"The workouts he's gone through this offseason have been very consistent and strong and just the tone and confidence from which he speaks from is another step in the right direction. That'll all be solidified as he commands a baseball in spring training and starts to get some tangible results once he steps on a mound."

The first steps towards that occurred over the weekend in Mississippi. Time will tell if those steps lead Bard back to the Boston bullpen.

If they do, he could once again be one of the top relievers in the game.

If not, Bard may have thrown his last pitch for the Red Sox.

What a shame that would be, considering the potential he showed in his first years here.

 

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.





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