Bullpen vs rotation debate could create conflict for Bobby V, bosses

There really is no hard evidence that embattled new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine is at odds yet with Boston's front office (maybe with some of the players, but not the front office).

But if there's a difference of opinion that could lead to conflict at some point, the best guess is that it'd be Valentine's emphasis on the bullpen vs. the Boston front office's emphasis on rotation.

Neither Valentine nor the front office has suggested anything negative about the other regarding this difference of opinion. But judging by comments made regarding the importance of the rotation and pen, there seems to be a great potential for disagreement.

Things seem pretty messy in Boston already, with Valentine suggesting Kevin Youkilis isn't as "into it'' as he expected, and Dustin Pedroia publicly chastising Valentine, saying that isn't how they do things there. So far Valentine and his bosses seem to be getting along OK, considering the putrid 4-10 start.

But that could change if Boston's bullpen continues to be the worst in baseball.

Daniel Bard is being skipped in the rotation, thanks to Sunday's rainout, and will be used for a few days in the pen, as needed. And right now, all sides agree he is needed in the pen. Desperation is surely a part of this change, which is being portrayed as temporary.

Bard looms as a possible pawn in a bullpen vs. rotation debate.

The plan is to skip Bard only one start and insert him right back into the rotation. But perhaps they'd be better off with Bard as the set-up man or closer in a bullpen that's nothing short of a mess (baseball-worst 8.44 ERA) right now. That's probably the way Valentine prefers it, even if he isn't saying. Boston could employ veteran Aaron Cook in the rotation to replace Bard.

Bard was doing OK as a starter. His 0-2 record and 4.63 ERA probably don't do justice to his decent beginning to his major-league starting career.

With a 98-mph fastball, Bard's also proved to be a nice reliever (excepting last September). And right now the Red Sox need several nice relievers.

Valentine has always emphasized the need for a great pen. He believes two-thirds of all games are decided in the late innings. Red Sox executives seem to emphasize the rotation for the usual reason -- that they will presumably pitch the majority of the innings.

This is no small difference of opinion. It's the main reason Valentine is believed to have favored Bard in the bullpen most of this spring and the reason Red Sox management wanted him to start.

Since starters cost more than relievers and the question was raised whether Bard was suited to close in his poor September last year, it made sense for the Red Sox to give Bard a shot at the rotation. (Red Sox people won't publicly admit the questions about Bard's closing ability was a major factor in the decision, though others believe it likely was.) However, through no fault of Bard, it's obvious where the need is now.

In any case, Bard is very likely to be moved back to the rotation in fairly short order, keeping alive the possibility for conflict. Only one other team has an ERA above 5.06 out of the pen (believe it or not, it's Tampa) and Boston's bullpen ERA is more than three runs higher than that.

The loss of Andrew Bailey, who was expected to close, has crippled the pen. Alfredo Aceves was thought to have the makeup needed to close but he's had three outings where he failed to retire even one single batter and is 24.00 ERA, while horrendous, is twice as good as that of Mark Melancon, who went to Triple-A Pawtucket with a 49.50 ERA.

Melancon was to be the set-up man (I don't believe they ever saw him as a potential closer, even if he was acquired before Bailey and they suggested publicly he might close.)

Valentine is said to be on very good behavior in dealings with his front office in a new job that is seen as his likely last job, and he made no negative comments regarding the original calls to stick with Bard as a starter or to demote personal favorites Ryan Lavarnway or Jose Iglesias, the highly-touted catching and shortstop prospects. But if Bard goes back to the rotation and the pen continues to stink up Fenway Park, it will be interesting to see what Valentine says then.

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