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BOSTON (CBS) – The best laid plans of mice and Red Sox often take more than a couple of weeks to come to fruition. But Bobby Valentine apparently doesn’t want to wait.
The Red Sox manager said this week that he’s not ready to anoint Daniel Bard as the team’s fourth starting pitcher. That’s despite the fact that the team decided months ago to convert Bard from a reliever to starter and has approached the offseason and this spring with that mind-set. Nope — Bobby V doesn’t just hand out spots in the starting rotation and Bard is no exception.
Valentine was critical of Bard’s most recent start (5 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 3 BB, 2 K), saying the righty’s control was an issue and that he didn’t use his changeup enough. When asked if he was prepared to announce Bard as a member of the starting rotation, Valentine responded bluntly: ”I’m not there yet.”
He’s not there yet, but he should be. Or, more accurately, he has to be.
Planting Bard in the starting rotation is the plan, one that was made with the understanding that it would take time to complete and would have several rough patches. You don’t abandon plans just three weeks into the project. Nobody should have expected it to be working perfectly by mid-March, and a mediocre spring start against the Blue Jays shouldn’t change one thing about those plans.
Read: Who’s At Short?
That’s especially the case when you consider that the bullpen was built without Bard in the plans. Mark Melancon (whom Bobby V noted as a great backer-upper of bases) took Bard’s spot as setup man, with Andrew Bailey taking over as closer. If you throw Bard back into the back end of the bullpen, you’ve got an extra body there.
That problem, though, could be worked around. The one that could not is the lack of viable starting pitchers on the Red Sox’ roster. The team already is struggling to cement a fifth starter. Adding the need of a fourth starter would help the team … how?
By taking Bard out of the rotation, you almost guarantee another slow start to the season. You put immense pressure on the shoulders of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, and you become a team that is depending on Daisuke Matsuzaka to contribute a great deal when he’s finally ready to pitch in the majors at some point this year. That’s a proposition that has to be completely unsettling for the Red Sox and the city of Boston at large.
In terms of options available on the roster, you have guys like Andrew Miller and Felix Doubront, both of whom are average minor league pitchers. You’ve got Michael Bowden, who’s never been able to put it all together as he’s steadily slid down the list of top Red Sox prospects in the past four years. You’ve got Vicente Padilla, who pitched a whopping 8.2 innings last year and 95 innings the year before, and who just injured himself lifting weights this week.
Lastly, you’ve got Alfredo Aceves, who as an invaluable player last year, but still a reliever whom the Red Sox would need to convert to a starter. Are you starting to see the problem here?
Even if Aceves gets the starting job over Bard, you have the same problems. Sure, Aceves was able to start four games last season, even throwing 98 pitches in two starts. In those games, though, he lasted six innings and five innings. In his four starts, he averaged just 5.1 innings, which seems to be Valentine’s fear of starting Bard.
“[Eighty-two] pitches in five innings is probably too many — probably a little [too many],” Valentine said of Bard’s most recent start.
The issue of whether or not Bard can start for the Red Sox is different from those of past years, but for some reason, the team with one of the highest payrolls in baseball always seems to have trouble fielding a rotation every year. The 2008 season ended with the Red Sox trading for Paul Byrd – Paul Byrd! — to make eight starts down the stretch. That was the same season in which Bartolo Colon made seven ill-fated starts for the Sox before injuring himself swinging a bat. With Colon, a pinnacle of health, in the rotation, who could have seen a problem like that coming?
The next year, in ’09, the Red Sox remedied their problems by signing John Smoltz and Brad Penny. The 42-year-old Smoltz, surprise surprise, made just eight horrific starts for Boston, while Penny made 24 less-than-stellar starts (7-8 record, 5.61 ERA) and was released by the end of August. The Red Sox’ Band-Aid that year? Calling up Paul Byrd – Paul Byrd! — and coaxing him out of retirement. He went 1-3 with a 5.82 ERA.
The 2010 team was able to rely on a relatively stable rotation, but last year was a complete mess. The Red Sox’ big trade deadline acquisition was Erik Bedard, who would pitch just 38 innings in eight starts over two months. In must-win games amid their historic collapse, Terry Francona was handing the ball to Kyle Weiland, who went 0-2 with a 7.36 ERA in September.
It’s not Weiland’s fault for failing to perform in the big leagues; it’s the Red Sox’ fault for being in a position where they had no other options to start ballgames.
Just five months later, Valentine seems at least open to the idea of removing a starter from his rotation, thereby setting the team up for another September with the Bedards, Weilands and Byrds (Paul Byrd!) of the world pitching important games.
Perhaps Valentine is just trying to motivate Bard (or any of the other pitchers vying for the starting spot, for that matter) and that no matter what, the starting spot belongs to Bard. It better be — otherwise, Ben Cherington may want to keep Paul Byrd’s phone number handy come August.
Follow Michael on Twitter @michaelFhurley