Bard more valuable out of bullpen for now
Red Sox need relief to turn around their early-season woes
It may not have been a complete coincidence that the Boston Red Sox found themselves back in the win column for the first time in six games, while using Daniel Bard as a relief pitcher.
The hard-throwing Bard has a repertoire of quality pitches that suggest a career as a starting pitcher. And he wants to be a starting pitcher. Perhaps over the long haul this is what should happen. But at the moment, given the status of the Boston bullpen, Bard would be most valuable to the team as a relief pitcher.
Bard has been Boston's No. 5 starter this season. But the Red Sox made him temporarily available in the bullpen Monday night. Against the Minnesota Twins, this move paid immediate dividends.
Bard got the Red Sox out of an eighth-inning jam, preserving a 5-5 tie. Cody Ross hit a solo homer for the Red Sox in the top of the ninth, and Alfredo Aceves, battered so badly by the Yankees on Saturday, worked a scoreless ninth for the save. Bard was the winning pitcher.
Presto. A five-game losing streak was history. Skeptics could argue that this sort of thing can be more easily accomplished against the Twins than against, oh, for instance, the Yankees, or the Rangers. But that should not be the core issue.
The Red Sox, after this victory, are 5-10. As always, there is a baseball adage for every occasion. In this case, the adage would be: "You can't win a pennant in April and May but you can lose one in April and May."
The Red Sox need to get the bullpen fixed before they can make any major strides toward turning their season in the right direction. Fortunately, they have one solution to this problem already on the roster. That solution would be Bard being used in the bullpen. His stuff is certainly good enough for him to be a closer. He has already been a setup man of considerable worth. The point is, Bard is needed in the Boston bullpen.
His use in that capacity Monday night was initially considered, however, to be temporary. Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said Sunday that Bard would be available in the bullpen for an appearance Monday or Tuesday night, but then would be scheduled to start Friday against the White Sox in Chicago. Bard was available because his scheduled Sunday night start against the Yankees had been rained out.
Bard told reporters that he had been assured in a conversation with Valentine and Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington that his use in the bullpen was a temporary situation.
"I asked a lot of questions as to what their goals were in this," Bard said. "They said right now they have every intention of it being temporary and making my start on Friday. That's where I'm at right now. I still view myself as a starter, and they said that they do, too. That's where they said they want me in the long run. For now, they said they'll try to address a need for a couple days and keep me from going 10 days without throwing, as well. [I] told them I was OK with it."
That's all fine. Nobody can talk Bard out of wanting to be a starter. And nobody can reasonably doubt his ability to be a starter. But right now, his team needs help in the bullpen. If Bard hadn't pitched in relief Monday night, maybe that five-game losing would have become a six-game losing streak.
The Red Sox could have some other options in the starting rotation. Veteran starter Aaron Cook is pitching well at Triple-A Pawtucket. Daisuke Matsuzaka is rehabbing after Tommy John surgery.
What the Red Sox don't have on board are a lot of viable options in the bullpen. With their preferred 2012 closer, Andrew Bailey, out after surgery to reconstruct a ligament in his right thumb, the Red Sox started the season with a deficit situation in their bullpen. And it became worse from game to game, culminating in the 15-9 loss to the Yankees, in which a nine-run lead was blown and five Boston relievers, in one stretch, gave up a total of 13 runs while recording a total of five outs.
Bard as a starting pitcher? Sounds like a terrific long-term plan. But right now, Boston's need is the bullpen, which is where Bard should be. That's where he was Monday night in Minneapolis, when the Red Sox won for the first time in six games.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.