BRADENTON, Fla. -- The makeup of the Red Sox starting rotation is, publicly at least, anyone's guess, with a handful of candidates still in contention for the fourth and fifth spots.
But there's evidence that suggests the rotation is coming into somewhat sharper focus, at least in the eyes of the people making the decisions.
One Red Sox staff member has told others outside the organization that, when all is said and done, Alfredo Aceves and Felix Doubront will have spots in the rotation, with Daniel Bard returning to the bullpen.
It had been assumed that Bard would be given every opportunity to nail down the No. 4 spot. But after two sharp, shorter outings earlier in the Grapefruit League schedule, Bard has struggled over his last two outings, walking seven hitters and allowing 10 hits in 7 23 innings.
On Tuesday night, about an hour after Bard had expressed satisfaction that he had taken a step forward, Valentine, in his post-game remarks, did seemingly everything he could to question Bard's suitability for the rotation.
He wondered aloud why Bard threw exactly one changeup among his 83 pitches.
"Hes got to understand that pitch,'' said Valentine. "It could really be that pitch that gets the contact when we need some soft contact situations."
He later noted that Bard's 83 pitches were "too many'' over five innings, introducing questions about the righthander's efficiency.
He expressed concern with Bard's control issues.
"I dont think that even with his good stuff I could handle the walks," said Valentine. "Now I dont know if theyre (the result of it being) spring and trying to impress. Thats why I looked for the changeup. If theres a pitch that he wasnt comfortable with and that was causing some of these negative counts, I would have been able to use that as an excuse.
"I dont know. Its hard. This isnt an exact science and I dont proclaim to have the exact answer or the right answer in this short sampling. Its tough. Well figure it out."
Across Florida, a number of scouts have made the observation that they think the Sox would be better off with Bard back in his customary eighth inning role.
One noted Bard is seen more as a "thrower'' rather than a complete pitcher.
Ironically, one Red Sox executive noted before spring training that it would "difficult but not impossible'' for the Sox to transition two relievers to the rotation in the same season, noting that there would be workload concerns and the challenge of replacing more than 160 bullpen innings from 2011.
All along, it appeared that would make Aceves the odd-man out. Now, there are growing hints that it could be Bard.