Starting becoming more natural for Bard

Starting becoming more natural for Bard

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- In perhaps the best sign that he will, in fact, make the starting rotation, Daniel Bard felt like a starting pitcher on Sunday, and looked like one to his manager, too.

Forget that Bard gave up five runs to the division-rival Blue Jays.

Much more important than some of the fluky things that can happen during Grapefruit League games is that Bard lasted six innings and threw 85 pitches.

Not only that, but he mixed in all four of his pitches equally well -- the four-seamer, two-seamer, slider and changeup.

"Today was the first game I can actually say I felt like a starting pitcher out there and not like a reliever starting," Bard said. "I used all four pitches -- a steady mix of all four, and then would favor one and felt confident about it."

The changeup was big, because Bard didn't use it much in his days as a reliever and -- a little to the chagrin of manager Bobby Valentine -- threw just one in his previous start.

"I was throwing the changeup pretty consistently. I had a couple of bad ones. But for the most part, I got some big outs on it," Bard said. "I was able to work on a lot of things and take the five runs out of it, I feel pretty good."

And for the first time, the time leading up to the game came more naturally for Bard.

"I felt comfortable in my routine before the game," Bard said. "I kind of finally have the times down, when I need to start getting ready, how many pitches to throw in the pregame bullpen, things like that are really getting comfortable for me. And then just the sitting between innings."

In the coming week, Valentine will select the final two pitchers of his starting rotation. Bard is in the running, along with Alfredo Aceves, Aaron Cook and Felix Doubront.

Following Sunday's game, Valentine seemed more pleased with what he saw from Bard than at any previous time during camp.

"And he looked like [a starter]," Valentine said. "And I liked him in between innings. I liked how he was responding to things. I thought it was a really good look today. He worked runners when they were on base. He got ground balls when he needed to. He got some swings and misses when he needed to, too. I just like what I see. That's good stuff."

When catcher Kelly Shoppach walked Bard back to the clubhouse after their day was over, he asked his pitcher how many runs he gave up.

"Five," Bard said.

"It felt like two," Shoppach said.

Bard was glad he wasn't the only one who felt like that.

"It was kind of like they kept slapping one on there every inning," Bard said. "I felt like I threw the ball well in each of those innings, but every hit they needed kind of fell through, or the ground balls got through. I felt like they were hitting some good pitches."

What happens in Dunedin doesn't always happen at Fenway Park or Rogers Centre, where Bard is likely to make his first regular-season start should he crack the rotation.

The Red Sox open the season with three games in Detroit and then move on to Toronto before coming home.

"The funny thing about Spring Training games, you get some weird swings on pitches. They don't know what they're getting from you and sometimes you're facing hitters you haven't faced before," Bard said. "Get to two strikes, and you don't know how to put a guy away, because I don't have a fresh scouting report on them -- things like that. That makes for funky stuff in Spring Training. I'm just focusing on the way I threw the ball. I felt really good."

Whereas five days earlier, Bard seemed more pleased with the way things went than Valentine, they seemed to have an equal appreciation for what took place Sunday.

"Overall, I liked everything," Valentine said. "You know, he had some tough breaks I thought. He worked his way out of jams. He had some pitches that could have been called strikes and didn't let them affect him. He threw all of his pitches today. I thought his changeup at times was devastating. His slider was sharp at times. What was there not to like, other than the five runs on the board?"

The way Valentine sees it at this stage of camp is that he's going to have five quality pitchers in his rotation when the season starts, even though he's not sure yet who the fourth and fifth are.

"It looks like it's all coming together," Valentine said. "No matter who's pitching, I like our pitching. We'll see how it works. I think it's going to be an easy decision. Yeah. It's not like we're going to be searching for pitchers to start games."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.