Bard embracing Red Sox role change

Bard embracing Red Sox role change
February 22, 2012, 4:21 am
Share This Post

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Daniel Bard is embarking on a new phase of his career and it is not one which he is undertaking lightly.

Toward the end of last season, Bard approached Red Sox management and signaled that he would like to transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation.

Last November, however, Bard thought his idea for a job change was over before it began. Closer Jonathan Papelbon left the Red Sox to sign a four-year, 50 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies and Bard naturally assumed that the Sox would now ask him to shift from set-up man to closer.

Instead, general manager Ben Cherington said he would reconstruct the back end of the bullpen on his own and allow Bard to go forward with his plan to start.

The move was cemented when Bard spoke with new manager Bobby Valentine for the first time.

"He asked me, 'What do you want to do?' " recounted Bard Tuesday. "I said, 'I want to start or close. I think I can do either one really well. Whatever you guys think will help the team more.' Turns out, they think starting's the way to go."

That was good news for Bard, who, despite his offer to do either, preferred to close.

"It's a change of scenery," he said. "If I do the same things that I did the last three years out of the bullpen and can convert that to almost three times as many innings, it's a no-brainer. It's going to help the team more and it's a new challenge for me. I'm excited about it."

But while Bard is motivated to make the switch, the move is more complicated than that. Beyond whatever mental adjustments Bard must make, there's the matter of the physical demands.

"There's a lot of unknowns," acknowledged Bard. "I haven't thrown these many innings in my whole life. But then again, I also think that 75 innings out of the bullpen, to me and guys I've talked to who've made this transition before, there's just as much wear-and-tear on your arm and your body as 200 in the rotation."

Indeed, because Bard has never pitched more than 75 innings in a single season in the big leagues, there had been talk that the Sox would impose a strict innings limit on him in his first season as a starter, in much the same way might with a young pitcher being promoted to the majors for the first time.

Bard, however, doesn't believe that will be necessary.

"I don't want an innings limit," said Bard. "If I'm (tired) in August, I'll say something to them. But I don't see that happening. I think my delivery is pretty fluid that the wear-and-tear on my arm is not going to be a whole lot different than it has been in past years."

This spring, Bard will attempt to successfully transition in a way that Papelbon did not. In the spring of 2007, concerned with how his shoulder would hold up in the long run, the Sox experimented with moving Papelbon from closer to starter.

Halfway through the spring, however, Papelbon decided he was made for pitching the ninth inning and convinced manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein to let him return to the back end of the bullpen.

"He said it didn't work for him (because) his mentality was so geared toward pitching every day," said Bard. "That's just the way he works. He's got to be doing something all the time. I have a little bit of that in me. I love the reliever lifestyle, getting ready to go every day. But that's going to be the difference, the mental side of it, trying to find something to occupy my time those four days in between."

This is not Bard's first foray into the starting rotation. In his first year in pro ball, Bard made 22 starts at Single A and compiled a bloated a 7.08 while averaging more than a walk an inning.

But Bard said his struggles were unrelated to his role. His mechanics were a mess and he would have had difficulty pitching anytime.

"If you can find video of me in '07," he said ruefully, "my mechanics were so messed up. It's not a surprise I couldn't throw strikes on a somewhat regular basis. The next year, I made the move to the bullpen and I made a lot of tweaks to my mechanics to get back to where I was comfortable. That's the reason my results got better; it had nothing to do with my role change."

The biggest adjustment, Bard believes, will be immersing himself more fully into advance scouting reports and game-planning to get the same hitters out three times, instead of just once as a reliever.

"I'm still going to go out and pitch to my strengths," he said, "but you'll see more of the four pitches that I throw."