The Red Sox badly need for this to work out -- the conversion of Daniel Bard from reliever to starter, that is. While the usual qualifiers apply (sample size, quality of competition, etc.), here are Bard's numbers after 12.2 Grapefruit League innings: 7.11 ERA, 11 hits, 10 walks, six strikeouts.
CBSSports.com Insider Jon Heyman recently spoke to a pair of scouts who don't think Bard is suited to rotation detail. Looking at those numbers, it's easy to understand why.
Early in his minor-league career, Bard struggled badly as a starter, partly because the organization insisted upon altering his mechanics. After shifting to relief and going back to his old delivery, however, Bard took off. But now, partly because of desperation on the part of the Sox, he's back in the rotation.
Bard will certainly lose something off the fastball that's averaged better than 97 mph over the last three seasons, but that's not the pitch everyone's worried about. Besides durability and mechanical concerns (will Bard's high-effort delivery allow him to log a starter's load of innings?), what about that fringy changeup?
As a major-league reliever, Bard went to his change just 4.9% of the time. That's understandable, particularly when a reliever has Bard's power fastball-slider combo, but his third pitch wasn't particularly effective, even when he did use it. Accordingly, Bard doesn't seem to have much confidence in it. As MLB.com reports, Bard went to the changeup only once in Tuesday's inconsistent outing against the Blue Jays. This wasn't lost on manager Bobby Valentine: "He's got to understand that pitch," Valentine said of Bard's fledging offspeed offering. "It could really be that pitch that gets the contact when we need some soft contact situations."
To be sure, a starter can succeed with just two pitches, but such pitchers are the exception rather than the rule.
Taking the long view, The Sox are justified in giving this a shot. After all, a solid starter is more valuable than even a great reliever, and there's a non-zero chance that Bard will take to the role in time. Given what's unfolded in spring and given Bard's profile, though, this may all amount to wishful thinking.
Also not to be forgotten is that Bard has been a shutdow setup man over the course of his major-league career. Can a bullpen that just sloughed off Jonathan Papelbon afford to, in essence, lose another elite reliever?
However, given the lack of rotation depth in Boston, they may not have much of a choice. As I said, the Red Sox badly need for this to work out. So far, it isn't.