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Daniel Bard gets his first win of the year. As a reliever.

Apr 24, 2012, 8:49 AM EDT

Daniel Bard

Last night, for the first time all year, the Red Sox bullpen looked like it was functional.  In a tie game, with no one out and a runner on third, a guy came in from the bullpen and put out the fire, then handed off to the closer in the ninth.  The fireman: Daniel Bard.

Bard got the win last night. He only threw two-thirds of an inning to do it, but it came at a time when getting any outs in the late innings has been a herculean task for Red Sox relievers. In taking the ball when he did and dousing the flames, Bard restored normalcy.  For now.

The problem: Daniel Bard is supposed to be starting. And, at least for now, he is still a starter. This is one of those deals, the Red Sox say, where a back of the rotation starter with early season offdays gets skipped and slotted into the bullpen. He’s scheduled to make his next start on Friday.

But those of us who loathe seeing promising young pitchers moved to the bullpen can be forgiven if this makes us uneasy, can’t we? Managers — especially managers who have witnessed recent bullpen implosions — tend to value relievers a lot more than they probably should and get comfortable having a young fireballer throwing an inning here or there instead of six or seven every fifth day.

When I see Daniel Bard do what he did last night, I see Ron Washington delaying Neftali Feliz‘s addition to the rotation for a year. I see Dusty Baker refusing to give Aroldis Chapman a chance to start. I see Bobby Valentine, sitting in his office, realizing that the bullpen is the biggest problem on this Red Sox team at the moment and thinking that Bard can start some other time.

Irrational? Maybe. Managers are paid to win games first. It’s the GM’s job to think long term about a player’s role.  And, like I said, there is nothing the Red Sox have said or done yet that suggests that Operation Daniel Bard: Starting Pitcher is going to be cancelled or delayed. It’s a little swingman time early in the season at a time when the pen needs some help. Nothing more.

Tell me it’s nothing more, OK?

  1. lazlosother - Apr 24, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    Daniel Bard has to close. He has a closer’s mentality. He will make everyone else in the pen better. Bard is much too important to be wasting his precious late inning skills as a starter. Just ask Mitch Williams and the MLB network.

    • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Apr 24, 2012 at 2:17 PM

      To this day, I have no idea what “closer’s mentality” means. Do some pitchers lack the intelligence to know that they have to make outs? If so, what are they doing playing baseball?

      • petey1999 - Apr 24, 2012 at 3:34 PM

        Not to mention that Bard has never actually been a closer. He has all of 5 saves in 195 appearances over 4 years.

  2. randygnyc - Apr 24, 2012 at 9:04 AM

    This will be another divisive struggle for the sox. We’ll see who wins this, the player or management. I’m betting Bard’s move to the pen is permanent this year, they just haven’t announced it yet.

    I won’t be surprised to see bard mysteriously land on the DL in the next 2 weeks. It’s the only way he can assert himself. Snark away, but mark my words.

  3. mybrunoblog - Apr 24, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    Mr. Bard this is the bullpen, Mr. Bullpen, this is Mr. Bard. Get used to each other boys.

  4. danindelray - Apr 24, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    Aaron Cook has been lights out since he started pitching in March. He has an opt-out on May 1 and they cannot – CANNOT – just let him walk because Bard is being given the opportunity to start. Sure, Cook may not hack it in the AL East, but he’s a sinkerball pitcher and on top of that, the pitching coach is the same as when he was having his greatest success. He has to be given a chance. At least then if he doesn’t hack it, he’s a useful piece to flip to an NL team.

    And Doubront looks like the best starter on the staff and ought to stay in the rotation. His value as a starter is much greater than Bard’s, and he’s much more valuable as a starter than as a reliever. Bard’s value as a reliever is much greater than it is as a starter. Bard in the bullpen is the only smart move they have.

    But I have no expectation that they’ll be smart about this.

  5. hammyofdoom - Apr 24, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    I still can’t believe so many people (including players and managers) have such a weird mindset about the 9th inning, even though there has been tons of data that show that a dedicated “closer” is one of the most overrated things in sports. If Daniel Bard can throw 160 effective innings as a starter, than he is FAR more important there then in the bullpen. All I wish is that they give him 10 starts, ten starts to see what he’s made out of. His last start, before he imploded in the 7th inning was absolutely dominant, and if he can keep building off of that there is no chance in hell he should close

    • 18thstreet - Apr 24, 2012 at 9:49 AM

      I believe it. Those late-inning collapses are so much more memorable than games that are lost in the 3rd inning. I’m sure there’s a smart person out there that can explain this tendency.

      It’s not that it’s right. But I understand.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Apr 24, 2012 at 2:19 PM

        Those late-inning collapses are so much more memorable than games that are lost in the 3rd inning. I’m sure there’s a smart person out there that can explain this tendency.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias

      • 18thstreet - Apr 24, 2012 at 2:46 PM

        No, no. Someone smart. Like Bozos. Or Biceps.

        Sorry, Church.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Apr 24, 2012 at 3:25 PM

        Damn, that cut me deep :)

  6. danindelray - Apr 24, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    Some people have no memories of 2003 or what it was like for a team to lose games, over and over, due to a bad bullpen. Not just anybody can close. Studies that show that a lead of three runs in the ninth inning is safe almost every time does not in anyway mean that any pitcher can handle those three outs consistently. If a dedicated closer is “overrated” then where are all the closers-by-committee? Why didn’t a smart manager like Tito use Papelbon any old inning?

    I thought Ace was a great choice for closer in place of Bailey, and look how that has turned out. If they don’t get the bullpen straightened out, this will be an impossibly long season, and Bard is the only person available to fix the bullpen.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Apr 24, 2012 at 2:30 PM

      Why didn’t a smart manager like Tito use Papelbon any old inning?

      Far too often managers go “by the book” because it’s safe, whether it’s right or wrong. By following the established “book”, they almost prevent themselves from the second guessing of pundits because, hey, the book says in situation X you do Y and hope for Z (c.f bunting in late innings). Never mind if studies have shown that doing X is counterproductive for goal Z (bunting again), because for 100+ years this is how things have been done, and math is evil (paraphrasing).

      A prime example is this NFL game, Colts/Pats on 11/15/09 (http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/recap?gameId=291115011). With a 4th and 2 from their own 28 with 2:08 to go, Belicheck went for it on 4th. Using a bit of game theory and an expected scoring matrix, Belicheck bucked conventional wisdom, went for it on 4th, failed and lost the game. He was destroyed in the press, even by the stat guys at footballoutsiders.com*. If he punted and lost, he could have thrown his hands up, said we followed usual protocol and most would agree. If he went for it and lost like he did, he opens himself up to second guessing.

      http://footballoutsiders.com/audibles/2009/audibles-line-week-10 scroll down to the last game

      • 18thstreet - Apr 24, 2012 at 2:58 PM

        Tito used Timlin, Okajima and Bard pretty darn effectively as non-closers. They weren’t only used the 8th.

  7. plummer2512 - Apr 24, 2012 at 10:08 AM

    I’m still not sold on putting him back in the bullpen. Clearly by his statements he wants to start and though he’s been effective in the past, he’s been in “starter” mode for all of Spring Training.

    Did anyone actually see the game last night? He didn’t look all that great. He walked a batter and had a missle hit off him luckily right at Youkilis. If that ball is 2 feet in any direction it’s a base hit and runner on 3rd scores. He got out of a jam pretty luckily.

    Also, let’s stop saying the bullpen is the problem with the Red Sox. PITCHING is a problem. Doubront has been very good but he’s young, can he deal with a full season? Lester and Becket have been very AVERAGE and Buchholz has been TERRIBLE. Bard was so-so in his first 2 starts. Take him out and now you strengthen your bullpen but you trash your starters.

    Let Bard stay as a starter until Matsuzaka is ready and then decide. If I was the Sox brass I wouldn’t pull the plug on this yet…

  8. petey1999 - Apr 24, 2012 at 12:33 PM

    You are correct, Craig – it’s nothing more. However, here’s a more relevant question that I haven’t seen anyone, including the Boston press, address directly:

    Under the terms of Aaron Cook’s contract, can the Red Sox trade him before May 1 for (presumably) a quality reliever?

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Apr 24, 2012 at 2:31 PM

      Not exactly sure, but if he signed as a FA it’s probably a similar situation to Freddy Garcia in that he has to approve a trade before 6/1. However, if he’s traded to a team that will guarantee him a starting spot, he probably would approve.

      • petey1999 - Apr 24, 2012 at 3:30 PM

        I agree. I think he’d have to sign a major league contract with the RS before they could trade him but that could be part of the whole process.

  9. starranger00 - Apr 24, 2012 at 12:58 PM

    The sporting press keeps on trying to manage the Red Sox. Bard has done better as a starter than most of the regular starters (right Lester, Lackey, and Buckholz?) Yet since the dude was in the bullpen last year the sporting press thinks he should be a reliever forevermore.

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