WAREHAM, Mass. – It takes a certain type of individual to handle the pressures of being a major league pitcher.
A big league hurler needs to stand tall on the mound in front of thousands of people, facing the biggest bats and trying to set the tone for his team.
It’s hard enough to keep his composure for one inning, let alone six or seven innings starting pitchers are expected to give each time out.
But how hard is it to make that transition from the bullpen into the starting rotation at the major league level? That is the question facing Boston Red Sox pitcher and Cape League alum Daniel Bard (North Carolina) could be facing this season.
It’s been nearly five years since Bard has been in a starting rotation. Given a chance to pitch for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League in 2005, Bard posted a sparkling 1.25 ERA in 10 starts, led the league with 82 strikeouts in 65 innings and earned MVP honors in the CCBL All-Star game in Hyannis, pitching a 1-2-3 inning with two K’s and was clocked at 99 miles per hour.
After being drafted the 28th overall pick in the 2006 MLB draft by Boston and being clocked at 100 MPH in the instructional league, Bard spent the 2007 season with the Greenville Drive and Lancaster Jethawks, where he posted a 7.05 ERA, walking 78 batters over 75 innings of work.
It was at the end of 2007 that Bard was moved to the bullpen and transitioned into the reliever role, where he proved to be invaluable at the Class A, AA, and AAA levels. In 2008, Bard was named Minor League pitcher of the year after posting a 1.51 ERA and 107 strikeouts with the Portland Sea Dogs.
Bard got the call to the big leagues on May 13, 2009 and never looked back. Since playing at the major league level, he has earned rookie of the year honors in 2009 and set a new club record with 21 scoreless appearances in 2011.
So here we are, months after one of the most eventful hot stove seasons in Red Sox history and just a couple weeks away from Opening Day 2012, and all eyes will be on the Red Sox and their new skipper Bobby Valentine.
Bobby V. has been shaking things up since day one on the job, and one area where he needs to make big decisions is in the starting rotation. After the departure of Jonathan Papelbon to Philadelphia, many thought Bard would make the transition to closer given his success in the bullpen. But speculation in Fort Meyers is that Bard will assume the fourth starter position behind Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester.
The question everyone wants to know is whether or not Bard has what it takes to succeed in a starter’s role.
Wareham Gatemen Field Manager Cooper Farris had the opportunity to coach Bard in 2005, but only for a week. Farris was only able to make it up to the Cape for a few days because his wife passed away from cancer earlier that summer. Still, in such a short time, he saw something special in the tenacious righty.
Getting into the routine might not be as hard as it sounds though, according to Farris. One of the benefits of being a starting pitcher is being able to establish a consistent work schedule.
“You can actually prepare a lot more as a starter because you’re on a five-day schedule,” said Farris. “You’re able to get into a routine, and most of the time as a reliever you don’t know when you’ll be pitching. So when you’re on a schedule, you can prepare a lot more, especially with running and lifting weights. As a reliever, you can’t really do that.”
Both former Wareham teammates Justin Masterson and Bard are developing into top-notch pitchers on the field, and Farris knows a lot of this is thanks to the kind of people both players are off the field.
“Both guys have great morals and great Christian values from their families,” said Farris. “When you’ve got that, you don’t have any problems. They make everyone around them better. I also think people recognize that they give everything they’ve got when they’re on the mound.”
The Red Sox still have a couple weeks to iron out their starting rotation before they open the 2012 season in Detroit on April 5. Whether Bobby V. makes Bard the fourth starter or keeps him in the bullpen, it will be exciting to keep tabs on one of the most impressive Cape League pitchers of all-time.