Aceves makes case, but Bard struggles in relief

Aceves makes case, but Bard struggles in relief

Aceves makes case, but Bard struggles in relief
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Alfredo Aceves' performance spoke for itself Thursday afternoon, while Daniel Bard's outing needed further explanation.

The plan against the Cardinals for Aceves and Bard -- probably the favorites to round out the Red Sox's rotation coming into camp -- was four innings apiece, with Aceves making the actual start and Bard making a psuedo-start in relief. Aceves' day was great: three hits, one run, four strikeouts and no walks as he completed four innings on 57 pitches, 35 for strikes.

"They hit a couple balls hard against him, [but] it looked like he came back and made some great pitches the next inning," manager Bobby Valentine said. "Got his work in and looks like he could be a good pitcher for us."

Bard's afternoon raised a few questions if not eyebrows. He went just 2 2/3 innings and gave up seven runs on six hits, a home run, and probably the hardest to swallow: four walks. He struck out four in spite of his control problems, which could have stemmed from several circumstances he discussed while making clear he wasn't trying to make excuses.

Coming into the game in relief when he is still trying to master his routine as a starting pitcher was a necessity for Bard, because Aceves needs to make starts, too.

"Shoot, it's not really an excuse," said Bard. "I'm a reliever by trade, I guess -- or I have been. It was weird, because I was trying to treat it like a start, yet I did my stuff in the training room like I did before my other starts. But then I go out and sit in the bullpen for three, four, five innings. I couldn't really use the whole routine that I've tried to establish."

The 16-minute rain delay in the sixth inning, Bard's first inning of work, interrupted the tempo further.

"It threw me off a little bit," said Bard. "I've done it many times before, and it's not something that should affect me, but when you haven't done it in awhile [it can affect you]. Warming up, the sky is getting dark and you know something's going to happen, so you maybe don't get that same adrenaline rush as you would when you know you're about to get going."

Bard's used to attacking the edges as a reliever, but that doesn't fly as a starter.

"I'm used to coming in for one inning and being OK with walking one guy, because you don't want to give up a big hit to them," said Bard. "I've been trained and trained myself to pitch on the outside edges of the zone as much as I can. I still want to do that as a starter, but at the same time, you've got to pitch in the middle of the zone and let guys put it in play."

Bard also entered the game an inning later than was planned because Valentine wanted left-hander Justin Thomas to face a particular part of St. Louis' lineup.

The positives for Bard were that he felt physically fine and could've thrown longer. Bard also felt his fastball control was there about half the time, changing from batter to batter, and he used his slider more than he had previously.

"He's probably had better days," said Valentine. "There were contributing factors, but all in all, he didn't [have] enough of strike ones and his stuff wasn't as good as it could be."

With more than five pitchers trying to squeeze into a five-man rotation, Valentine said next time around Aceves and Josh Beckett will take their turn in Minor League games. That means Bard will have the big league mound to himself from inning No. 1, and he won't have many opportunities to prove himself in spring after that.

"I'd like him to get ahead in the count a little more," Valentine said of Bard's next go-around. "[He's] got to be able to put away hitters. It looks like he was always trying to get back in the count."

Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.