Daniel Bard: Relief role feels right

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- It took nearly half of the 2012 season, but the Daniel Bard-as-starter experiment is finished.

The right-hander called Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington recently, and both felt it would be best for the club if Bard converted back to being a reliever for the remainder of the season.

"We felt at this point in the season putting Daniel back in the 'pen gives him the best chance to impact our team the most for 2012. He's committed to returning to a role that he's been exceptional in at the big league level," Cherington said.

Bard was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket on June 7 after posting a 5-6 record with a 5.24 ERA in 10 starts and one relief appearance for the Red Sox this season, his first as a starter. The 26-year-old made one start for Pawtucket, but he's since worked out of the bullpen.

"After going and doing it a couple of times it felt like I belonged," Bard said. "It felt like that was what I was meant to do is pitch late in games. My skill set and my experience is built for that type of role. It's just a feeling, and there's conviction to it. Everyone I've talked to, including how I feel myself, I know I can be a good starter, but I already know I'm a great reliever. Maybe that's what I was meant to do, and I'll try to embrace it from here on out."

During their conversation, Cherington told Bard that the club hasn't totally shut the door on him being a starter, but Bard said he would rather be in the bullpen.

"He tried to make it sound like it wasn't permanent in his mind, if I wanted to still go back to starting next year, they'd be open to it, but I told them for now this is where I want to be, in the bullpen," Bard said.

When Bard returns to Boston, the idea at this point is he'll be used again as the eighth-inning setup man that made him so successful from 2009-11. However, Boston's bullpen has done well this season, and Bard knows that.

The Sox are jam-packed with productive arms, and Boston relievers lead the majors with a combined 1.99 ERA entering Friday night.

"What they tried to communicate to me was they'd try to use me the way they used me in Boston," Bard said. "I'm not sure how I'd fit into that bullpen right now. Obviously, there are a lot of guys throwing well. I think they want to fit me like kind of the other day (with the PawSox), I came in and finished the eighth, got us out of the jam, and then the ninth didn't go as well, but it was a similar situation to maybe what I could see up there."

The decision to convert Bard into a starter was made last November, and when he arrived in Fort Myers, Fla., for the start of spring training he was ready for the challenge. Unfortunately for him and the team, it didn't go as planned.

"I'm not ready even to say it failed. Obviously I wasn't our best starter, but I wasn't the worst guy in the American League by any means, either," Bard said. "Yeah, I wish I could've had a couple of those outings back, but I had some good starts, too. I proved to myself that I can do it. Obviously I wanted it to be able to stick, but it didn't, and here I am."

When he first arrived in Pawtucket earlier this month, the plan was he would remain a starter in hopes of a quick return to Boston.

The right-hander made one brief start for the PawSox on June 8 and ever since he's worked out of the bullpen. It didn't take Bard long to realize that's where he belongs, so he and Cherington came to an agreement that it was time for him to move back to being a reliever, a role he dominated for the last 2½ seasons in Boston.

"I didn't want it to be a spur-of-the-moment decision," Bard said. "Once I started to feel that way, I still gave it four or five days and talked to a lot of people I trust, talked to my wife, just to make sure if I told them that's what I wanted to do that it was going to be a final decision. It's something that I'm very convicted in saying. After giving it a few days, the feeling only got stronger, and ironically when I made the call to Ben to talk to him about him they were going to basically tell me the same thing."

Now that he has a defined role for the remainder of the season, Bard believes he'll find his stuff that made him one of the more dominant relievers in the big leagues the last few seasons.

"It gives me an identity and a purpose now," Bard said. "I'm not just down here pitching and trying to get innings and get some feel back. I'm actually a reliever and this is how I'm going to get back to Boston. It gives you a little more sense of a goal, rather than just become a better pitcher down here. I know exactly what I need to do and I've done it before and go from there."

Nonetheless, he struggled in his one-inning outing for the PawSox at McCoy Stadium on Friday night. He allowed two hits, including a solo home run, hit a batter and struck out two. He tossed 21 pitches (12 strikes). When he entered Friday's game in the top of the seventh inning, the PawSox had a 3-2 lead, but the Louisville Bats tied the game on Miguel Rojas' homer.

"I went into today trying to throw every pitch with conviction and I pretty much did that," Bard said.

"I couldn't throw the breaking balls to lefties, but it'll come. I threw it well to some of the righties. The home run, just fell behind the guy and he cheated to the fastball."

The PawSox ended up losing 4-3 in 13 innings.