|When Daisuke makes his return, Daniel Bard's rotation spot could become less secure. (Getty Images)|
Scouts who watched him Friday night against the Phillies noted that not only is his velocity down from what it was in the bullpen, but his slider isn't nearly as sharp, either.
Meanwhile, the Red Soxhave Daisuke Matsuzaka nearing the end of a minor-league rehabilitation assignment. They were also one of the teams that sent someone to look at free-agent pitcher Roy Oswalt.
Is it nearing time to pull the plug on the Bard-as-starter experiment?
Not at all.
The reports on Matsuzaka's rehab starts haven't been overly promising. The Red Sox are telling people that they were only doing "due diligence" in scouting Oswalt, and are suggesting that there's very little chance they'll sign him.
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Bard may never become the front-line starter the Red Sox imagine. But just as the Rangers were convinced that 200 innings out of Neftali Feliz were more valuable than 60 innings, and just as the Reds eventually see Aroldis Chapman having more use to them as a starter rather than a closer, the Red Sox front office believes strongly that Bard has greater value at the beginning of games rather than at the end.
Can he do it? Great question, but the answer doesn't come in seven starts, or even in 10 or 15.
And while some people still question that he can, others are already convinced.
"He's already figured out how to pitch to get deep in games," Red Sox outfielder Cody Ross said. "He's going to be a really good starter, for a very long time."
Bard seems to believe that himself, even if he's disappointed with games like Friday's.
"I knew it was going to be a tough transition," he said. "I viewed it as a personal challenge."
Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who was said during spring training to strongly favor putting Bard in the bullpen, was somewhat critical of the 26-year-old right-hander after Friday's loss.
"The walks, they're just not acceptable," Valentine said. "That amount of walks, you can't leave your team out there, and you can't keep letting those guys on base. He's tough to hit in the strike zone."
Valentine didn't suggest that Bard's spot in the rotation is in any danger. As strongly as the front office believes in Bard, it would be hard to believe that, anyway.
"I appreciate the trust they have in me," Bard said.
The Red Sox have tough decisions to make. Matsuzaka can make only one more start on his current rehab assignment. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe suggested a loophole that could allow the Sox to extend the assignment, but at some point there will be pressure to put Matsuzaka (making $10 million this year) into the rotation.
Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz aren't likely to be going anywhere, barring an injury. Felix Doubront has won his last three starts.
Bard could be more of a question, but he shouldn't be.
This is the time to find out if he can do it, as Bard himself agreed.
"The way I saw it, if I didn't do it this year -- well, you get to a certain age, you probably aren't going to change," he said.
The Red Sox are committed to this plan. They should be.
And a few so-so starts shouldn't cause anyone to think the plan should be changed yet.