The Red Sox demoted Daniel Bard to Triple-A Wednesday afternoon, putting an end for now to his conversion experiment at the major league level.
It was exactly the right move at exactly the right time.
The idea was an admirable one. Daniel Bard is a live arm who could well possess the repertoire to survive as a starter, and inevitably even just an above-average starter throwing 150 innings is going to be worth more than a great reliever throwing 80); with Bard pushing all-along to make the conversion (after all, a starter is usually going to make more money), the Sox may honestly have been irresponsible not to at least give it a look. And after providing what was clearly the superior performance between Aceves and himself in spring training, the Sox were in no position to call the experiment early.
They even gave Bard the right amount of time. The fact of the matter is that he looked good in that first month of the season. He was able to survive even when his full repertoire wasn't working (a must-have skill for a starter), threw strikes, maintained velocity late. Through the first month of the year, he may even have been the team's best starter.
Unfortunately, everything went terribly wrong in May. Only once walking more men then he struck out, a simple breakdown in mechanics could have been enough to throw off his control. More frightening, however, was the dramatic drop in velocity, which saw Bard not even touching 95 at one point, and sitting in the low 90s for the most part.
If Bard was taking something off to gain better control, it did not work. While he would finally pick up four strikeouts to just two walks in his last start of the month, things fell apart in his first appearance in June: Sunday's disastrous effort which saw Bard miss the zone by feet as often as inches, surrendering five earned runs before the second inning was over, walking six men and hitting two more against the Blue Jays. His velocity remained at its lowest point, and only his slider ever showed even a little control.
He looked like a man with nothing left.
Perhaps it was the fatigue of a starter's schedule. Perhaps it was simply the steady accumulation of mechanical problems. Whatever the cause, it was a signal to the Red Sox. Daniel Bard was broken, and one way or another needed fixing. The only question was where they were going to take on that task, and with the race in the American League being as close as it is, they could not afford too many more meltdowns such as he had just provided.
The answer was clear: Bard needed to go to Triple-A. This demotion does not, however, necessarily mean the end of Bard as a starter, but simply that if he's going to continue the experiment, he will have to prove himself again before the team will take a chance on him in a game where the results actually count. With Daisuke Matsuzaka ready to make the jump back to the major leagues, the timing was perfect as well.
Of course, this may just steer him back towards the bullpen after all. Should the team simply note the fact that his road back to the majors is probably shortest as a reliever, where he needs to make fewer changes and prove less, then he might just jump at the opportunity to get out of riding the bus in Triple-A and back to playing in the big leagues. But whether it's converting to a starter or continuing the starting experiment, there's no good reason to make his appearances count until he's proven he can provide results.