FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The process of getting Daniel Bard back to what he once was is ongoing, and that's why the Red Sox optioned the right-hander to Double-A Portland prior to Thursday night's Grapefruit League game against the Twins.
Bard has spent Spring Training trying to refine his mechanics so he can consistently pound the strike zone like he did as one of baseball's best relievers from 2009-11.
"I've seen tremendous improvement from him," said pitching coach Juan Nieves. "He's healthy and the velocity is back. I think there's more in the tank. He's in the process of getting back."
With the demotion of Bard, it appears that right-hander Clayton Mortensen -- who is out of Minor League options -- has won the 12th and final spot on Boston's pitching staff.
The fact that Bard still had options made the decision for the club easier. Last season, Bard tried to make the transition to the starting rotation and the move not only backfired, but the right-hander seemed to lose his mechanics and his confidence in the process.
Bard's rotation stint ended in early June 2012, and he spent months in the Minors trying to regain his form as a reliever.
He showed flashes of brilliance this spring, but also several bouts of inconsistency.
"I'll tell you one thing -- I've been very pleased with the process," said Nieves. "You get another month and a half, two months of him, we should see incredible results. He's on the right track. It's just not all happening all at once. Listen, Rome was never built in one day. I think his baby steps will bring him back, and I'm sure we'll see the Bard we've seen before. I've seen incredible, great progress from what I saw on video this past winter of how he pitched last year. Oh my God, tremendous strides."
Why Double-A instead of Triple-A?
"Sometimes guys go to Triple-A, they think, 'if I have a couple of good starts or a good game, six or seven games in a row when I'm good, oh OK, I'm back'. No, this is a process," said Nieves. "Consistency is going to be very important.
"Not only from the performance itself, but how his consistency is with his delivery and his thoughts. It's not a demotion. It's just, we want him to understand that there's a process. It's not that he goes to Triple-A and has two good outings and 'I'm ready.' The way back is not just one or two outings."
In eight Grapefruit League games, Bard had a 6.75 ERA over eight innings. His performance on Wednesday was a tough one, as he gave up three hits and three runs and one walk over one inning against the Marlins.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne.