Bard welcomes additions to Red Sox bullpen

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Bard welcomes additions to Red Sox bullpen

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The signings of free agent relievers Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler might make some in the Red Sox bullpen nervous.

But not Daniel Bard.

Bard welcomes the acquisitions, viewing them as reinforcements rather than competition.

"It's awesome," Bard said Wednesday. "I'm excited about it. It's nice to have more help down there than we had last year. I think we have some veteran guys in. That's kind of what I felt we needed down there -- some guys who you kind of know what you're going to get out of them. They've proven themselves over the last five or six years. I'm excited about it.

"It doesn't affect the way I'm going to approach anything. Maybe it will lighten the load a little bit, especially in the eighth inning, we'll have some more quality arms to go with. Even if we cut down my appearances by five, that's huge when it comes down to September and October. I think those guys are definitely going to be able to do that."

Bard emphasized that, despite a staff-high 73 appearances last year, he wasn't worn down at the end of last season.

"I actually felt good," Bard said. "There was no pain whatsoever. My body felt good. There were days when you're just a little stiff. I didn't know how I would handle that workload. I'd thrown more innings before, but that was by far the most appearances I had. But I felt good overall and I bounced back this offseason."

Even with the arrival of Jenks, Bard doesn't expect his job description will change.

"I haven't talked to anybody about my role," he said, "but I don't see it changing a whole lot. Maybe the situations like last year when I was coming in with one out or two outs in the seventh and throwing an inning plus -- that kind of wears on you throughout a season, sitting down and getting back up.

"I think the biggest plus of having Jenks here is a chance to break that up. We can both get two outs or three outs, or whatever it takes to fill that seventh or eighth inning gap to get to our closer."

In his first full season in the majors last year, Bard was among the best set-up relievers in the game, posting a 1.93 ERA while allowing just 45 hits in 74 23 innings.

"I want to build on what I did last year," said Bard. "I don't have anything big or exciting as far as developing a new pitch. I just want to build on last season."

Bard is expected to share the set-up duty with Jenks, who served as the White Sox closer for most of the last six seasons. Jenks will have some adjustments to make going from the ninth inning to the seventh or eighth, but Bard believes the intensity of pitching in Fenway could ease the transition.

"There may be an adjustment period," said Bard. "He pitched in a pretty big market, but I don't think it quite compares to the meaningfulness of the games here. He's pitched in the World Series, but I think that first time he comes out, with that crowd at Fenway, it's not going to matter if he's pitching in the fourth inning or the ninth.

"I think he'll do fine. He's a competitive guy with great stuff. He wouldn't have come here if he wasn't willing to do it, knowing who we had in place. I don't see it being an issue for him."

Bard also has confidence that closer Jonathan Papelbon will put the disappointment of 2010 behind him.

"I'm not too worried about him," said Bard. "He was still throwing 96-98 mph at the end of the year. I think he's going to right back where he was a couple of years ago. I know his mindset hasn't changed. You can say he has the added motivation of it being the last year of his contract, so he's got a lot of things working in his favor."

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

MLB players' union agrees to pitchless intentional walks

NEW YORK - There won't be any wild pitches on intentional walks this season.

The players' association has agreed to Major League Baseball's proposal to have intentional walks without pitches this year.

"It doesn't seem like that big of a deal. I know they're trying to cut out some of the fat. I'm OK with that," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.

While the union has resisted many of MLB's proposed innovations, such as raising the bottom of the strike zone, installing pitch clocks and limiting trips to the mound, players are willing to accept the intentional walk change.

"As part of a broader discussion with other moving pieces, the answer is yes," union head Tony Clark wrote Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press. "There are details, as part of that discussion, that are still being worked through, however."

The union's decision was first reported by ESPN .

"I'm OK with it. You signal. I don't think that's a big deal," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For the most part, it's not changing the strategy, it's just kind of speeding things up. I'm good with it."

There were 932 intentional walks last year, including 600 in the National League, where batters are walked to bring the pitcher's slot to the plate.

"You don't want to get your pitcher out of a rhythm, and when you do the intentional walk, I think you can take a pitcher out of his rhythm," Girardi said. "I've often wondered why you don't bring in your shortstop and the pitcher stand at short. Let the shortstop walk him. They're used to playing catch more like that than a pitcher is."

Agreement with the union is required for playing rules changes unless MLB gives one year advance notice, in which case it can unilaterally make alterations. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope Tuesday that ongoing talks would lead to an agreement on other changes but also said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Some changes with video review can be made unilaterally, such as shortening the time to make a challenge.

"I know they were thinking about putting in a 30-second (limit) for managers to make a decision," Francona said. "I actually wish they would. I think it would hustle it up and if we can't tell in 30 seconds, maybe we shouldn't be doing it anyway."

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.