Valentine still in evaluation mode with Bard

Valentine still in evaluation mode with Bard

Valentine still in evaluation mode with Bard
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The good news for Red Sox right-hander Daniel Bard is that he recovered far better from adversity on Tuesday night than he did in his previous outing. The bad news is that there was, like last time out, inconsistency in the performance.

Bard remains a candidate to win a spot in Boston's pitching rotation, but things are far from settled. Manager Bobby Valentine maintained that stance both before and after the game.

Pitching against the Blue Jays, Bard went five innings, giving up three hits and three runs while walking three and striking out two. He threw 83 pitches.

All the runs were scored in the second inning, and Bard felt his last three innings were his best three. That said, Valentine seemed disappointed that Bard threw only one changeup.

"He's got to understand that pitch," Valentine said. "It could really be that pitch that gets the contact when we need some soft contact situations. Kelly [Shoppach] and he haven't been together that much, and that's a situation, too, that was developing as the game went on. All in all, I thought he threw the ball well. He didn't get the great results in the [second] inning, and 82 pitches in five innings is probably too many -- probably a little [too many]."

In Bard's previous outing, he was rocked for six hits and seven runs over just 2 2/3 innings. Valentine admits that evaluating Bard's candidacy to crack the rotation isn't easy in a Spring Training environment. This is especially true when Valentine isn't evaluating Bard in a vacuum, but instead trying to gauge how he fits best for the entire staff.

"I don't want it to sound like I don't have any idea," Valentine said. "It's another five innings that on a normal day with our offense isn't giving us that bad a chance. When he left the game, I would think we were still in it, totally. I like the fact he was able to make the adjustment. It seemed the windup wasn't quite as crisp as the stretch, even though they got the hits out of the stretch, too. We'll see."

Bard has walked seven batters in his 7 2/3 innings. Is that a product of Spring Training?

"Boy, it's real hard for me to figure," Valentine said. "That's exactly what I'm looking at, though, or wondering. I don't think that even with his good stuff I could handle the walks. Now I don't know if [it's Spring Training and he's trying a new pitch]. That's why I looked for the changeup. If there was a pitch he wasn't comfortable with and that was causing some of these negative counts, I would have been able to use that as an excuse.

"It's hard. Hey, this isn't an exact science, and I don't proclaim to think that I'm going to have the exact answer or the right answer in this short sampling, but [we'll] figure it out."

Overall, Bard sounds comfortable with where things are headed.

"It was three walks today, but it was a lot different mentality that led to them," Bard said. "I felt like I stayed aggressive despite falling behind and I ended up walking them. But they weren't unaggressive. I wasn't aiming the ball, picking at corners, pitching away from contact. They were just straight up, and I came out of my mechanics for a few pitches and ended up walking them.

"That's, I think, pretty standard at this point in Spring Training. Obviously I'm not happy about it, but if that's the worst thing, I felt like when I was on the zone, they weren't squaring many balls up. I think they hit two balls on the barrel well. I definitely felt like it was a more aggressive outing on my part if you take out those couple of hitters."

No matter what role he is in, Bard figures to be a vital member of Boston's pitching staff in 2012, just like he's been the previous three seasons. And he said that he understands why Valentine hasn't committed to him as a starter yet.

"I don't expect to be handed anything," Bard said. "After my previous outing, I wouldn't expect him to hand me a job. He wouldn't be doing his job if that was the case, [especially] when you've got other guys who are throwing the ball well.

"I think today was a good building block and I showed them I can get through five innings in a reasonable amount of pitches. Who knows if this is a normal game and I go two more innings, we're talking about a pretty good outing. I'm going to focus on that and build on it, and I think it was good mentally for me to get through five, too. I take a lot of positives from it."

Ian Browne is a reporter for Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.