On the surface, it’s a harmless shift. During Bard’s last start, he tossed a career-high 111 pitches, an excessive total considering the 26-year-old remains in the early phases of his transition from reliever to starter. The extra breather would be beneficial.
Publicly, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine stuck to that sentiment.
“Most people feel that the fifth starter, however well he’s pitching, when he’s in that line as the fifth starter and there are off days, he is usually the guy that is skipped,” Valentine said. “Seven days is a long time.”
But the strategy has the hint of a full-time return to relieving for Bard. Back in the spring, Bard discussed the mental hurdles from starting a Grapefruit League game and then spelling Alfredo Aceves in a subsequent appearance.
If it was bothersome to Bard in the spring, imagine the mental ramifications of the transition during the regular season. The Red Sox haven’t called upon Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz to fill a temporary void in the bullpen. So then, why would the team stilt Bard’s development as a starter by banishing him to short-term, bullpen duty? And why else would Valentine use a stopgap option in “bailout” –– the word he used on Sunday –– situations?
By reading between the lines, it’s logical to deduce that Bard is being evaluated as a reliever once again. Considering the bullpen’s horrific start to the season, the Red Sox brass has no other alternatives.
When Bard was in the bullpen, he was lights out, posting a 2.97 ERA in three seasons in the set up role.
Of all the Opening Day relievers now, only Scott Atchison owns an ERA lower than 3.00 with a 1.86 ERA. Behind Atchison, Matt Albers has a 4.15 ERA. The rest of the group has contributed to the pitching staff’s overall ERA of 6.68 ERA.
With Aaron Cook dominating as a starter for Pawtucket –– he’s 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA –– it increases the urgency to analyze Bard in the bullpen. If the Red Sox don’t call Cook up by May 1, he could exercise his opt-out clause and become a free agent.
So there’s a pressing timetable ahead. If Cook pans out, he could inherit the starting job and slide Bard into the closer’s role until Andrew Bailey, who is recovering from thumb surgery, returns in August.
Bard didn’t deserve being thrown into the complex situation. He showcased potential as a starter against the Rays, throwing 6 2/3 innings and allowing one run while tossing seven strikeouts.
But just like Aceves in the spring, Bard may be a victim of his own skill set.
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