Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Daniel Bard: "My goal will be to be the best reliever I can be"

The Red Sox did all they could to make Jonathan Papelbon a starting pitcher, even going to spring training with him in that role after a rookie season in which he'd accumulated a 0.92 ERA out of the bullpen.

The Red Sox did all they could to make Justin Masterson a starter, too, stretching him out in spring training a year ago and only sending him back to the bullpen after Daisuke Matsuzaka came off the disabled list for the first time. When Masterson was traded to Cleveland, he went right into the Indians' starting rotation and even struck out 12 in a complete-game gem in his final start of the season.

Masterson and Papelbon both have the workhorse frame necessarily to be successful starting pitchers. Standing 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-6, respectively, both have the necessary physical traits to withstand the grind of 35 starts and 200 innings in a season.

Since starting pitchers inherently are more valuable than relief pitchers simply because they pitch more innings, the Red Sox did all they could for as long as they could to keep the option open of putting both pitchers in their starting rotations.

That hasn't been the case, though, with Daniel Bard.

Much like Masterson and Papelbon, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Bard began his ascent in the Red Sox organization as a starting pitcher. He was a starter for three seasons at North Carolina and was seen as a starter long-term -- that is, until he turned in a 7.08 ERA in 22 starts in his professional debut in 2007.

The Red Sox then sent Bard off to the Hawaiian Winter League to get in some work as a relief pitcher. Upon his return, he compiled a 1.51 ERA in 46 appearances split between Single-A and Double-A in 2008, striking out more than one-third of the hitters he faced.

At that point, the Red Sox seemed to abandon the idea of making the live-armed righty a starting pitcher, fast-tracking him to the major leagues as their next power-armed reliever.

It's not as though the Red Sox need another starting pitcher next season. The addition of John Lackey means Terry Francona will go into spring training with six starters expected to be healthy and ready to go, and Bard will have far more of a chance to make an impact out of the bullpen than he would have as a starter.

It's curious, though, that a team that put so much effort into making starting pitchers out of Masterson and Papelbon -- even, in both cases, after they'd had success as relievers at the major-league level -- hasn't done the same with Bard.

"I haven’t talked to the team about it at all," Bard said on Wednesday, reached by phone while en route to the site in Georgia where he'll get married on Saturday. "As far as I know, I’m a reliever, and I’ll prepare that way. But the changes I’ve made and the things I’ve learned over the past two or three years, they’ve made me a lot better of a pitcher and could translate to being either a starter or a reliever. A lot of it is just mentality. If the day came when I was called on to start again, I think I could handle it, for sure. I would be up to the challenge.

"Right now, I’m a reliever, and I’m happy to be where I’m at. Until I hear something different, my goal will be to be the best reliever I can be. ... I don’t see it happening in the near future, but you never know."

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