St. Louis Cardinals: Daniel Bard Eyeing Comeback, Throwing Heat

Relief pitcher Daniel Bard’s career fizzled out amid control issues, but he’s throwing hard this spring and hoping to catch on with the St. Louis Cardinals.

It wasn’t long ago that Daniel Bard looked like the next big thing out of the Boston Red Sox bullpen. For a brief stretch he was one of the game’s most lethal setup men, but it all quickly unraveled and Bard has not appeared in a major league game since 2013. He’s attempting a comeback with the St. Louis Cardinals, however, and Peter Gammons posted a video of him getting ready for spring camp, still throwing hard.

In his heyday, Bard’s fastball could hit triple digits on the radar gun, but he typically sat around the 96-97 mph area. Gammons mentions that Bard is using a new delivery, which will hopefully fix the past control issues that were his downfall. Making the Cardinals roster is a real long-shot, but at 31 years old it would be unfair to say the sun has definitively set on Bard.

Bard made his debut in 2009, posting a 3.65 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 11.5 K/9 over 49.1 innings for the Red Sox. A promising debut to be sure, particularly in regard to his punch-out ability. He truly came into his own the following season, when he produced easily the best campaign of his big league career. Bard tossed 74.2 dominant frames, generating a 1.93 ERA (227 ERA+), 1.00 WHIP and 9.2 K/9. He took a step back in 2011, but still enjoyed a strong season overall. Bard put up a 3.33 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 9.1 K/9 in 73 innings.

The next year was when things really went awry. The Red Sox gave Bard a try in the rotation, an experiment that did not yield the intended results. In 10 starts, he managed a 5.30 ERA over 54.1 frames, walking more batters (36) than he struck out (34) and plunking eight. His poor showing earned him a demotion in June, and he still struggled out of the bullpen upon being recalled in August (4.1 IP, 9 ER).

Though never much of a control artist even when he was on top of his game, Bard really seemed to lose the strike zone in 2012 to negative effect. After walking 3.5 batters per nine innings through his first three MLB seasons, Bard posted a ghastly 6.5 BB/9 in 2012. To make matters worse, he struck out only 5.8 hitters per nine, a major drop from his 9.1 K/9 the year prior. He also allowed a career-high 1.4 HR/9.

Bard appeared in just one inning in 2013, spending most of his season in the minors, failing to re-harness his stuff. He went through brief stints with the Cubs, Rangers and Pirates over the next few years, but failed to crack the majors again. The Cardinals signed him to a minor league deal last June, and he endured a nightmarish three innings for their Class A Advanced squad in which he walked a staggering 13 batters.

The story is somewhat similar to former Cardinals hurler Rick Ankiel, whose young career was famously derailed by overwhelming control issues. Though Ankiel earned a second act as an outfielder, Bard hopes to prove himself worthy of the mound once again. Did the move to the rotation irreversibly ruin him? Was a shoulder injury to blame? No one, even Bard himself, can likely say for sure what went wrong.

For now, Bard will focus on steadying himself by getting some clean innings under his belt. If his revamped delivery does the trick, then perhaps he can work his way up the Cards’ organizational ladder.

All statistics courtesy Baseball-Reference.com.

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