TORONTO - It got to a point Sunday when Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine had no choice but to take Daniel Bard out of the game before he seriously injured one of the Toronto Blue Jays.
As Valentine approached the mound, Bard already was walking off, seemingly relieved that the worst performance of his career was over.
“I’ve had bad ones before,’’ Bard said. “Nothing like that.’’
Bard walked six batters and hit two others, coming out of the game with two outs in the second inning. That the Red Sox lost the game, 5-1, seemed almost incidental to the question of whether Bard can continue in the rotation.
In a search of major league records dating to 1918, Bard is the first pitcher to walk six and hit two in two or fewer innings. Of his 55 pitches, only 24 were strikes.
For the first time since he became a starter in spring training after spending three seasons as one of the best setup relievers in the game, Bard admitted he’s not the same pitcher.
“I allowed something to happen when I switched roles,’’ he said. “I think it’s just maybe that we just tried to turn me into a starter rather than just take the same pitcher I was out of the pen and move that guy to the rotation, which is probably what should have been done.
“It’s partially my fault - it’s all my fault. Maybe it’s a matter of getting back to what I had success doing in the past.’’
By that Bard means how he pitched in relief, not going back to the bullpen. But that decision is not his to make.
“Daniel just couldn’t find it, obviously,’’ said Valentine, who in spring training questioned the decision to make Bard a starter. “I was hoping against hope, I guess. He threw a couple of pitches that looked decent. Just couldn’t repeat them.’’
Bard (5-6) has a 5.30 ERA in 10 starts. Counting his one relief appearance, he has walked 37 and struck out 34. His eight hit batters are tied for the most in the majors with Gavin Floyd of the White Sox.
Fastball velocity and command also continue to be concerns. Bard regularly pitched at 97 m.p.h. as a reliever and threw even harder when he wanted. But none of his pitches exceeded 93 Sunday and he threw only six fastballs for strikes.
“I was watching some video, I had plenty of time when I came out of the game, and just looking at what I might be doing different,’’ he said. “The ability to repeat just isn’t there like it has been in the past . . . We’ll dig into that a little more and hopefully come up with something a little more concrete.’’
That it would be a long day for Bard was evident in the first inning when he missed the strike zone with eight of his first 10 pitches.
Kelly Johnson walked, as did Yunel Escobar. Bard got ahead of Jose Bautista 1-and-2 and had a chance to right himself. But Bautista worked the count full and fouled off a fastball deep to left field. The next pitch was a high fastball over the plate and Bautista lined it off the facing of the second deck in left-center field for his 14th home run.
Bautista had been hitless in nine at-bats against Bard with five strikeouts.
Bard walked the next batter, Edwin Encarnacion, on four pitches. The last one sailed to the backstop and promoted a visit from pitching coach Bob McClure.
Bard escaped further damage but finished the inning having thrown 28 pitches.
Bard started the bottom of the second inning by walking Colby Rasmus and J.P. Arencibia. The last pitch to Arencibia went to the backstop.
Bard momentarily regained his command, striking out Rajai Davis and Johnson on six pitches. Then his outing turned even more ugly.
Bard hit Escobar on the left hand with a fastball to load the bases. Bautista was next and he walked on six pitches to force in a run. Bard then drilled Encarnacion on his right hand, scoring another run.
The Toronto designated hitter stayed in to run the bases but was pinch hit for in the fifth inning. X-rays were inconclusive and further tests will be done on Monday.
As Toronto manager John Farrell attended to Encarnacion, Bard walked behind the mound and stared out into the outfield as the crowd at Rogers Centre chanted, “Throw him out.’’ That’s when Valentine finally came to the mound.
“The last thing I want is for anybody to get hurt,’’ he said.
Valentine asked Bard the obvious question when they returned to the dugout: Was he pitching with some sort of injury that affected his control?
“He said he wished there was something but there wasn’t,’’ Valentine said.
Bard is the first Red Sox starter to walk six in less than two innings since Mickey McDermott, who did it twice in 1950.
Bard allowed two runs on five hits and two walks against the Tigers Tuesday and believed he had solved some lingering issues with his delivery. Then came one of the wildest starts in history.
If the Red Sox decide to take Bard out of the rotation, Daisuke Matsuzaka is available. He has started seven minor league games in his comeback from Tommy John surgery.
Matsuzaka, who is scheduled to start for Triple A Pawtucket Tuesday, has allowed one run on three hits over 10 1/3 innings in his last two starts with one walk and six strikeouts. He is eligible to be activated at any time.
Toronto starter Drew Hutchison (5-2) went seven innings, allowing one run on five hits with one walk and five strikeouts. The only run he allowed came in the fifth inning when Kelly Shoppach hit his third home run of the season.
Hutchison appeared to extract some payback for Bard’s unintentional wildness by hitting Kevin Youkilis in the sixth.
Youkilis was hit in the left shoulder by a two-strike fastball and reacted angrily, yelling out at Hutchison. Youkilis also pointed at his hip, the usual spot pitchers aim for when making a point.
Youkilis was not available for comment after the game.
The Sox fell into a tie for fourth place in the division with Toronto.
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com.