Daniel Bard will be the wild card heading into spring training. After posting 34 holds and limiting opposing hitters to a .179 batting average in 2011, the reliever is determined to make a transition to the starting rotation.
But the 26-year-old hasn't pitched in that role since 2007. That season, he struggled during his 22 starts between Single-A Greenville and High-A Lancaster, compiling a 3-7 record with 47 strikeouts, 78 walks and a 7.08 ERA.
Those numbers are far from promising. But if there's anyone who can guide Bard through the upcoming conversion, it's pitching coach Bob McClure, who was formally hired by Bobby Valentine on Friday.
During his first five years with the Brewers, McClure was a fixture in the bullpen, averaging a 3.35 ERA and recording 30 saves. But in 1982, the 30-year-old was tapped to fill the No. 4 spot in the starting rotation.
McClure wound up making a solid transition –- albeit a short one — totaling a 12-7 record with 99 strikeouts in 26 starts. He posted a 4.22 ERA and racked up 99 strikeouts to help propel Milwaukee to a first-place finish in the American League East.
It wasn't a dazzling output, but McClure provided stability to the rotation. And that's the production the Red Sox could use from Bard and other possible candidates, such as Alfredo Aceves and Andrew Miller, both of whom spent time as relievers and starters last year.
"You just have to see how it works out as far as endurance, as far as being able to repeat your delivery," McClure said. "A lot of relievers are in the bullpen [that have] starters' stuff because they don't have the ability to repeat their delivery for 100 to 130 pitches. It depends on body type. It depends on their arm."
In that 1982 season, McClure flaunted a durable arm that pitched 172 2/3 innings –- 82 more than his previous career-high in 1980. He remained in the rotation for the next two more seasons, going 12-17 before returning to the bullpen in 1985.
The transition didn't have a fairytale ending, but at that point, McClure was past his prime. At 26, Bard is only scratching the surface with a blazing fastball to complement his curveball and changeup.
Even if Bard's conversion to the rotation falters, McClure anticipates the spring training stretch could produce positive ramifications down the road.
"From my past experiences, [pitchers] actually end up better off because they're able to work in spring training, because they're pitching multiple innings on a third pitch, which may be important," McClure said. "It usually is if you're a starter trying to get three times through a lineup. There's a lot of benefits in doing it."
In fact, if all else fails, the preparation for starting could speed up Bard's progression as a closer.
Bob McClure photo (left) via Flickr/padukem