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On baseball

Daniel Bard’s next step is uncertain

Return to starting rotation not guaranteed after minor league stint

Daniel Bard’s exit from Sunday’s game looks like his last appearance for the Red Sox for a while.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/AP/CP

Daniel Bard’s exit from Sunday’s game looks like his last appearance for the Red Sox for a while.

If you read between the lines, there is not a lot of support for keeping Daniel Bard in the starting rotation, but the Red Sox will dance with that notion for a while, if only to keep Bard in the right frame of mind as he tries to fix the mess his delivery is in.

The Red Sox always thought the transition from reliever to starter would have its bumps, and it certainly has. But they didn’t expect anything like the wildness Bard exhibited against Toronto Sunday, when he walked six and hit two in less than two innings and had the Blue Jays afraid to step to the plate, for fear they might get seriously hurt.

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That performance led to Sox to assign Bard to Pawtucket Tuesday.

While they considered moving him back to the bullpen, that was ruled out for a few reasons.

One, if Bard couldn’t throw strikes as a starter, why would that change out of the bullpen?

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Second, the seven bullpen pitchers have been tremendous, so why disrupt that?

And third, anyone to be replaced in the pen would have to go on waivers, which risks losing a pitcher to another team.

So it came down to a disabled list stint (you could argue a tired arm) or the minors.

It’s a little surprising that Bard is going to Pawtucket and not to Fort Myers, Fla., where he could work in relative privacy. Even at Pawtucket, he’s going to get fans and media watching him, and he probably needs to be away from any type of spotlight.

“I think he can start,’’ said pitching coach Bob McClure. “I might be one of the few that thinks that he can. But I really do.

“No. 1, he needs to keep it simple. He’s a power pitcher with two plus pitches and perhaps a third one. Anyone who can throw 100 pitches like he could with the ease he was doing it at one point definitely has the possibility of starting.’’

McClure believes Bard should get right back in the saddle but be limited to a few two-inning stints. Gee, wonder what that would be leading to?

“It might be better to pitch him every other day or two innings at a time, then two days off,’’ said McClure. “We need to find what’s best for him.’’

Manager Bobby Valentine said Bard had three checkpoints to reference when he goes out of whack, and that he has been trying to correct all at once rather than take one at a time.

One of the big concerns is velocity.

And no, the Red Sox did not want Bard to throw slower to preserve himself as a starter.

“That’s part of the mechanical mystery,’’ Valentine said. “There are times in the bullpen when he had everything in synch and cranked it up. Between the windups and the stretch and taking center stage, he gets out of that a little.

“That’s really one of the things he’ll be searching for - to nail down how to get a mechanic that when he wants to, he can add a little.’’

Asked if that is why Bard can’t economize pitches and get deeper into games, Valentine said, “I don’t want to overanalyze the whole thing. If he had a good mechanic and he’s throwing the way he can and the organization believes he can, pitching longer, getting more strikeouts, and pitching to contact will all come.’’

I asked Valentine if the organization told Bard how to transition from reliever to starter or whether Bard felt his way through it. He acknowledged that perhaps there were too many things floating in Bard’s head, that too many things were being said.

Bard referenced that after Sunday’s humiliating outing, first saying he was “partially to blame’’ for that, then amending it to “all to blame.’’

Valentine said Bard tried to talk him out of the demotion. Bard felt he could fix the problems on the fly, but the Red Sox did the right thing. This isn’t an also-ran team on which you can work things out during games. This is a team that can contend, and even though Bard is considered a fifth starter, fifth starters are important.

“Just felt the best thing for the organization and Daniel was get in an environment where he could just work on that mechanic and not have to worry about the big league record and his teammates,’’ said Valentine.

“I think it’ll be a quick turnaround. He had a real good frame of mind. Didn’t think it was necessary to really have an assignment. He thought he could kind of find it on the fly. We’re going to take the conservative route.’’

Bard is 5-6 with a 5.24 earned run average. He has walked 37 and hit eight over 55 innings, with only 34 strikeouts. He never looked like the dominant pitcher who could strike his way out of a jam. In fact, you could argue that his most impressive outing of the year was the one relief appearance he made, in Minnesota, when he worked out of a first-and-third, one-out jam.

“We’ll stay with the idea that he’s a starter and see how he develops,’’ Valentine said. “There’s a lot of building blocks, a lot of good things that have happened here that he can still build on. It seems like it’s just around the corner.’’

McClure said Bard needs to find his natural arm slot. Bard is better when he’s higher, and lately he has been dropping down too much.

“When he’s lower, it’s harder and not as accurate,’’ McClure said. “That’s why you saw the velocity down a little bit, too. He was kind of caught in between a little bit.’’

Asked if the workload of a starter had anything to do with the drop in velocity, Valentine said, “We’re looking at his pitches thrown. If a guy is going to go from pitching less, say, 60 innings to pitching 180 innings as a starter, that’s three times the workload and three times the pitches.

“He’s about 1,000 pitches, which is about a third of his workload, and he feels really good at this third juncture. So I don’t know how much it has to be monitored.’’

One thing is for sure. Bard is going to replaced in the rotation, likely by Daisuke Matsuzaka.

And if Matsuzaka pitches well, then there’s no room for Bard. And he has allowed that to happen.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.
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