Bard will be a major factor this season, but as a starter or reliever?
To the delight of many Red Sox fans across Red Sox Nation, we heard an announcement in the eighth inning of last night’s meeting against the Minnesota Twins: Daniel Bard was warming up in the bullpen.
As it was stated after the debacle—to put it extremely lightly—on Saturday, Daniel Bard was going to be made temporarily available out of the bullpen. Bard has made it clear: he wants to start, and this move will not involve back-to-back games nor will it push back his next scheduled start against the Chicago White Sox on Friday. "Temporary" appears to be the operative word.
But with one out and a runner on in the bottom of the eighth inning last night, in came our savior to squash any potential go-ahead effort by the Twins. And here came the biggest decision that Bobby Valentine has had to make since the regular season started: who comes in to close it out in the ninth? With Cody Ross’ home run putting the Sox ahead 6-5, and Boston in desperate need of a win—by any means necessary—Bobby Valentine had a bold decision to make: Daniel Bard or Alfredo Aceves.
It doesn’t seem like a season-altering decision, but think of the implications. If Bard stays in, the decision alone would shake Aceves’ already fragile confidence after giving up five runs without recording an out in Saturday’s game against the Yankees. Aceves is somewhat of a reluctant closer—a closer due to circumstance. If Valentine, so early in the season, were to go to Bard in a must-win, one-run save situation, it would be difficult to go back to Aceves and convince him that he’s the guy. Any trust that exists between the two, Aceves and Valentine, would surely be broken.
Should Daniel Bard be moved to the bullpen?
And what about Bard?
If he gave up the winning runs, then it would be easy to slide him back into the rotation. But what if he struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth? Then Bard is suddenly the savior of the bullpen. How could Valentine justify moving Bard back into the rotation on Friday—again, Bard’s heavy preference—if he appeared as the symbol of stability and dominance in the chaos that is the Boston Red Sox bullpen?
Valentine made the right move going to Aceves to close out the game; he also was apparently able to lighten the tension after Aceves gave up what would have been a home run in most parks (Valentine may be the right man for the job yet). Sometimes the boldest decision is to stick to your guns and not succumb to the panicked cries for drastic and desperate change. Bobby V. has shown he isn’t afraid to rock the boat or make an unpopular decision—even if that bold decision is to not make a change.
Of course that brings us to the greater issue: the Red Sox pitching staff. Originally, I was a proponent of keeping Bard in the bullpen and sacrificing the role of fifth starter to the hodgepodge of low risk, high-reward veterans like Vicente Padilla or Aaron Cook. If a team has the opportunity to solidify one aspect of the game—be it hitting, fielding, starting pitching or bullpen—it’s probably the best move to eliminate that area of weakness.
Starting the season, the Red Sox's bullpen had sneaky potential. (Follow me here for a second). The Red Sox had Alfredo Aceves and Daniel Bard coming back—two proven bullpen arms. Then they trade for Andrew Bailey (dominant when healthy) and Mark Melancon (probably not a closer like he was with the Houston Astros, but someone who could get some meaningful innings). Add to those four, two lefties from the trio of Rich Hill, Franklin Morales and Andrew Miller, and the bullpen is starting to take some meaningful shape. Finish it up with Junichi Tazawa or Chris Carpenter (a young pitcher who has some upside), and I feel comfortable knowing who I have to finish the game.
As usual, things never go as planned.
Andrew Bailey, living up to his reputation of being a health liability, is out until at least the All-Star break. Melancon gets shelled and is now trying to get things figured out at Pawtucket. Morales has shown flashes of dominance but is inconsistent. Rich Hill is still rehabbing, and Andrew Miller needs to prove he can be somewhat consistent with his performance in AAA to make the major league quad. Carpenter was on the disabled list before the season started, and Tazawa has just been called up and has been effective so far (at least something is going right).
That leaves us with Bard and Aceves. Aceves has been thrust into the closer’s role and appears to be still adjusting to it. His four-pitch repertoire seems more suited for the long man, flex guy out of the
bullpen that can come in in the fourth inning and keep the game close until the eighth.
Bard, on the other hand, is tricky to evaluate. Based on pure stuff, he’s a closer. But down the stretch last year, when the Red Sox needed him to be at his best, he crumbled posting a 10.64
ERA in the month of September. Was it fatigue or nerves? So far, he’s looked pretty good as a starter. He held Tampa Bay to one run over 6-plus innings—and only gave up that run because he was left in two batters too long.
So where is Daniel Bard more valuable to this team? Would he provide a stabilizing force in the bullpen? Remember, he has been consistent in his desire to start; who knows the mental impact of being put in the bullpen against his wishes.
Bobby Valentine has a lot of decisions ahead of him regarding the 2012 Boston Red Sox. And while he certainly has made some gaffes with the media, his decision to stay with Aceves as the closer on Monday night was a smart one. In a chaotic environment where everyone was wanting Bobby Valentine to make the sexy choice and turn to Daniel Bard, he stayed consistent, knowing—hoping, maybe—that it would pay off in the long run.
Aceves may not be the answer at closer; Bard may not be best suited for the role of fifth starter. But decisions like these that affect the entire rest of the season and the makeup of the roster shouldn’t be made in moments of desperation.
But they’ll have to be made eventually.