Bard makes his final pitch to join the rotation

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Bard makes his final pitch to join the rotation

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Daniel Bard has made his final Grapefruit League start, but still, the Red Sox won't say where's he headed -- to the rotation or back to the bullpen.
What they will say, however, is how far Bard has come this spring in his attempt to make the transition from reliever to starter.
"Basically, he's where we hoped he could be,'' said Bobby Valentine after Bard allowed three runs on four hits over six innings with seven strikeouts and three walks in a 9-7 win over the Minnesota Twins on Friday at Hammond Stadium, "and where he hoped he could be. He wanted to come here and build and figure out all those nuances. I don't know that he figured them all out. You still have learning pains and growing experiences. But physically, he got to where he wants to be and he's a smart kid.''
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, meanwhile, caught Bard's first start earlier this spring, then didn't catch him at all until Friday afternoon in his final Grapefruit League outing.He, too, noticed a progression over the course of the spring.
"I think he's slowing things down a bit,'' said Saltalamacchia. "He's really slowing down and thinking about why he's throwing a certain pitch rather than just kind of throwing it.''
Saltalamacchia also has seen Bard ramp up his aggressiveness over the last few weeks.
"He's more comfortable with wanting to throw the ball over the plate,'' said Saltalamacchia. "He's not afraid for them to swing. He knows he has good stuff. He knows that they have do everything right to hit his pitch. He went out there today and basically said, 'Here I am -- see what you can do.' I think it's a boost of confidence.''
Added Bard: "I really do feel like I've gotten better with each start.''
Still, the mystery about Bard's role remains. Valentine said he wasn't ready to say he had made the rotation. Asked what Bard's potential was as a starter, Valentine equivocated some.
"No idea,'' he said. "You have to see him into a season before you figure that stuff out. I think he can start.''
Whether he will start the fourth game of the season for the Red Sox is still unclear, though it would seem a decision could come as soon as Saturday.
After being nicked for a run in the first on a double to the left-center gap by Justin Morneau, Bard faced one batter over the minimum from the second through the fifth before encountering some fatigue in the sixth. He needed 27 pitches to get through the final inning, allowing two runs in the process.
"I really was cruising until the sixth,'' he said. "Getting out the lineup for the third time. I kind of got that feeling, 'They've seen everything I've got,' because I really was mixing it up a lot. I tried to be a little too perfect with some of the pitches. But I was able to limit the damage.
"Focusing on the big picture, I thought it was a good outing.''
For now, however, Bard waits to learn his fate. He acknowledged it was "hard'' to keep out of his mind that Friday's outing would be his last until a decision is reached.
"At the same time,'' he said, "that's no different than pitching in a big game. There was something riding on it. For me, it was more personal and what my role's going to be. But at some point this year, hopefully I'm pitching in a big game and there's a lot more riding on it and it's team oriented.''
At the very least, Bard proved to himself that he could start.
"If the situation arises and I end up in the bullpen,'' he said, "and we need a starter down the road, maybe they'll look to me. Hopefully, I won't go there. But we'll see what happens.''

Quotes, notes and stars: Red Sox 7, White Sox 3

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Quotes, notes and stars: Red Sox 7, White Sox 3

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 7-3 win over the White Sox:

QUOTES

* "Where five days ago, he was able to harness things and command the baseball a little better, tonight that was not the case.'' - John Farrell on Henry Owens.

* "That was a momentum shift for us.'' - Farrell on the inning-ending double play that ended the fifth, with Mookie Betts throwing out Brett Lowrie at the plate.

* "They've done outstanding work, when our backs have been against the wall with some early exits by starters.'' Farrell on the bullpen contributions.

* "It's disappointing, (after) working hard on my mechanics the last five days.'' - Owens on his command struggles.

* "It's good to win a series, for sure, against this team.'' - Xander Bogaerts on the win.

NOTES

* Seven different Red Sox hitters produced an RBI.

* The Red Sox are 9-2 in their last 11 and 11-4 in their last 15.

* Hanley Ramirez, who homered for the second time in his last two games, has nine RBI in his last nine games.

* Jackie Bradley Jr. extended his hitting streak to 11 straight games.

* The Sox became the first team to beat the White Sox two games in a row at home.

STARS

1) Matt Barnes

Barnes picked up the win in relief, contributing five big outs in the middle innings and stabilizing the game for the Red Sox bullpen.

2) Dustin Pedroia

After going hitless Wednesday night in the cleanup spot, Pedroia was back in the No. 2 hole and got the Sox off on the right foot with a solo homer in the top of the first. He later added two more hits.

3) Hanley Ramirez

Returning from a one-game absence, Ramirez belted his second homer in as many games and also worked two walks, a good sign for someone who not long ago was too often expanding the strike zone.

First impressions: Red Sox bullpen picks up the slack in 7-3 win

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First impressions: Red Sox bullpen picks up the slack in 7-3 win

CHICAGO -- First impressions from the Red Sox' 7-3 win over the White Sox:

* Henry Owens doesn't throw enough strikes to remain in the rotation.

Owens's time was coming to an end anyway, what with the imminent return of Eduardo Rodriguez.

But Owens may have pitched his way out of another start with his outing Thursday night. He faced 16 hitters and walked six hitters.

In every inning he began, he allowed the leadoff hitter to reach. This, despite his teammates scoring runs for him in every previous half inning.

* For a team without a lot of homers, the Red Sox hit their share Thursday night.

The Sox came into the game tied for 11th in homers in the American League, then hit three in the first six innings.

Each one of the homers -- by Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez and Jackie Bradley - came with the bases empty, but together, they helped the Red Sox hold off the White Sox.

Ramirez's homer was particularly encouraging, since it was his second in the last three nights, and like the one he hit on Tuesday, was hit to the opposite field.

* The bullpen picked up a lot of slack.

When the Henry Owens Walkfest mercifully ended in the fourth inning, the Red Sox still had 18 outs to get.

Heath Hembree stumbled some, allowing a run on five hits -- the first run he's allowed this season -- but Matt Barnes, Junichi Tazawa, Robbie Ross. Jr took it from there, chipping in for the final 4 1/3 innings, all scoreless.

Thus far this season, the Red Sox have won four games in which their starter failed to get to the fifth inning. Some of that is a tribute to the offense, which has rallied a few times to make up early deficits.

But it's also due in part to the bullpen, which has provided quality relief and bought time for the offense to catch up.

* The Sox continue to play well on the road.

Through the first four road series, the Red Sox are 4-0-1, having done no worse than a split in their road sets to date.

Learning to win on the road now can be a useful trait for this team in the second half, when the schedule has them playing far more games away from home in the final two and a half months of the season.

* Boston had a balanced offensive attack.

Every member of the starting lineup except one Thursday had either an extra-base hit or a sacrifice fly. Leadoff hitter Mookie Betts, who continues to run hot and cold, was the only starter without one or the other, though he did have a single, walk twice and score a run.

In all, seven different players recorded one RBI.