Since Mar. 1 –– the first day of spring training games –– Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves have been scheduled to pitch on the same days. In two games, Aceves has started and Bard has relieved. In two other games, Bard has started while Aceves has relieved.
Here were results from the official games that counted:
Aceves: five innings pitched, two hits, no runs, no walks and four strikeouts
Bard: five innings pitches, two hits, no runs, three walks and three strikeouts
Until Thursday’s 9-6 loss against the Cardinals, there wasn't much that separated the two. The lone disparity was in the unofficial "B" game on Mar. 1, when Aceves yielded three hits and one run compared to Bard's two hits and one run allowed.
That's no longer the case. After Aceves tossed four scoreless innings on Thursday and Bard surrendered seven runs through two and two-thirds frames, the gap is slowly widening. By those numbers, the Red Sox should seriously consider Aceves as a starter.
Even if it's at Bard’s expense –– this scenario is under the assumption that Felix Doubront or another pitcher wins the No. 5 spot in the rotation.
Now, let me make it clear that Bard is entitled to endure a subpar outing. It's normal. There's no debating his talent. He entered during a rain delay Thursday, which isn't the most ideal of pitching circumstances. He could rebound quickly and render this column worthless.
But between the pair, it appears that Aceves possesses more of the mental makeup to flourish as a starter. Nothing fazes him. Whether he comes in relief or starts off a game, the results are usually similar.
Through his four years in the majors, he's assembled an eye-popping 24-3 record, the highest winning percentage for a player in baseball history. When asked about possibly starting on a regular basis for the first time since 2008, he shrugged it off.
"Nothing different at all," Aceves told NESN.com recently. "It feels the exact same. I don't see it as winning a job. I already have a job, it's just not my decision to decide who'll start or who'll catch or who'll be shortstop."
It's a complete 360 from Bard's attitude. Following Thursday's outing, where he entered in relief for Aceves, the 26-year-old partly attributed his lackluster performance to emerging from the bullpen.
"It was weird because I was trying to treat it like a start, yet I did my stuff in the training room like I did before my other starts," Bard said after the game. "But then I go out and sit in the bullpen for three, four, five innings. I couldn't really use the whole routine that I've tried to establish."
A little later in the news conference, Bard hinted that a shift in the rotation could improve his results.
"Hopefully, now that we're going to go to a five-man rotation, maybe split us up, I think that's big for me –– the mental part of starting a game and getting in a flow," Bard said. "I just wasn't able to do that today."
So Bard acknowledges that mentally he's still adjusting to life as a starter. Quite frankly, that’s understandable. No problem. Bard hasn't started since 2007, when he toed the rubber for the Greenville Drive.
The difference, however, is Aceves already appears to be mentally seasoned to start for the Red Sox. It may –– key word here is may –– take longer for Bard to achieve the comfortable and confident state of mind.
Remember Aceves hasn't started regularly since 2008, either. Sure, he made spot starts, but the elongated break applies to him like it has for Bard. Still, regardless of the scenario, Aceves has been aces.
Since the first week of spring training, Red Sox pitching coach Bob McClure has lauded Aceves’ candidacy to crack the starting rotation.
"I imagine from a mental standpoint, it'd be very easy for him [to start] because he can do so many things with the baseball," McClure told NESN.com. "So it would probably be easier for Aceves than anybody because — one, he's done it. Two, is that he's been very effective pitching two, three innings, plus at the major-league level. His control is real good, so it probably would be pretty easy for Alfredo."
The Red Sox have invested much effort into Bard. During the first few days on the job, manager Bobby Valentine consulted the young hurler and supported his conversion from reliever to starter.
As a result of that endorsement, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington essentially nixed any ideas of Bard in the bullpen, trading for set-up man Mark Melancon and closer Andrew Bailey.
In the end, Bard possesses the skills to join the starting staff and dazzle during the regular season. There's no questioning that potential. But based on the numbers thus far, it's imperative that the Red Sox evaluate Aceves as a legitimate starting option.
With nine starts and 105 relief appearances in his major-league career, Aceves has demonstrated his winning pedigree. And right now, it's hard to argue against it.
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