Daniel Bard made his first major league start against the Blue Jays last night and the line was ugly: 5 innings; 8 hits; 5 earned runs; 1 walk; and 6 strikeouts. He threw 96 pitches and 65 strikes and didn’t allow a homer.
But the bottom line of the boxscore is misleading. In fact, most of the runs were scored on placement rather than power. Bard’s biggest problem was the inability to throw his changeup for strikes.
Neftali Feliz made his first major league start as well and his line was far more impressive: 7 innings; 4 hits; 0 runs; 2 walks; and 4 strikeouts. He threw 108 pitches and 68 strikes.
Bard took the loss. Feliz got the win. In truth, they didn’t pitch all that differently. Feliz had better control of his changeup and worse control with his fastball and slider.
None of that is going to matter to those who’ve already made their minds up on how Bard needs to be utilized. Because he gave up 5 runs and the Red Sox bullpen is still in flux, the calls will continue to shift Bard into the closer’s role. After all, the argument will go, he lost and didn’t pitch “well”.
The results weren’t good, but Bard was good enough to win if he’d had some better luck.
There will be no such calls for Feliz to be moved back to the bullpen.
Because the Rangers signed a veteran closer, Joe Nathan, to take over for Feliz, there’s no debate as to Feliz’s role. He’s a starter, period.
The Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey, who got hurt; and Mark Melancon, who they don’t trust; and they’re trying Alfredo Aceves as the closer now in a desperation maneuver that’s probably not going to work.
With the Rangers depth in the starting rotation and inexpensive signing of Nathan, they don’t have to concern themselves with perception. The Red Sox don’t have that luxury in either area, so they’re going to endure constant demands to put Bard where he “belongs”.
There’s a dichotomy of purpose in Boston. On one hand, the players, coaching staff and manager want Bard to do well in whatever role he’s in; on the other, they might want to see him do badly enough as a starter that the front office has no choice but to sign off on the move that the on-field staff wants to make and switch him to the bullpen to insert veteran Aaron Cook into the starting rotation.
And don’t think Cook isn’t watching and waiting for his opportunity; if that means he’s silently hoping that Bard pitches poorly as a starter, so be it.
Cook pitched well in his first start for Pawtucket.
Bard’s work last night complicates matters and every game the Red Sox play—and every start Cook makes in Triple A—will be relevant to how the team moves forward.
All will try to twist the results in the direction they prefer and their agendas will lead them; but if Bard keeps pitching as he did last night, there’s not going to be an obvious answer. A decision will have to be made and they’re going to have to stick to it.
It’s not going to be simple one way or the other.