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Bard starts to put it together

Impressive outing gives Valentine plenty to ponder

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 31, 2012
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - From where he was standing at shortstop, Mike Aviles had a good view of how Daniel Bard pitched against the Minnesota Twins on Friday.

In his estimation, Aviles saw a pitcher who deserves a chance to start for the Red Sox. Bard threw a variety of pitches, maintained his velocity, and went deep into the game.

Over six innings, Bard surrendered three runs on four hits with three walks and seven strikeouts. If not for a bloop single that fell over third base in the sixth inning, Bard would have given up only two runs.

“There’s so much potential there because his stuff is so electric,’’ Aviles said. “He’s throwing his fastball 96 and he has two sliders from what I can see. He has one with a little bend in it and one that’s really tight.

“With the second one, when he throws it a little harder, you have zero chance on that. It’s kind of like having an extra pitch. That’s some really good stuff.’’

That Bard is working as a starter for the first time since 2007 impresses Aviles even more.

“I feel like he’s taking to it really well and with each start he’s getting more comfortable,’’ the shortstop said. “If he looks this good now, what will he look like in a month or two?’’

Indications are that Felix Doubront and Bard will claim the two open spots in the rotation, although manager Bobby Valentine hasn’t said that. The Red Sox also are considering Alfredo Aceves and to a lesser degree veteran Aaron Cook.

Valentine said before the game Friday that Bard has proven to the team he is capable of starting. Afterward, he praised Bard’s progress.

“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 to have some growing pains and experience - but I think physically, he got to be where he wants to be and he’s a smart kid,’’ Valentine said.

But Valentine wouldn’t bite at questions about what the rotation will be next week when the season starts.

Bard gave up an RBI double by Joe Mauer in the first inning. He then set down 13 of the next 14 batters, seven by strikeout. Bard needed only 31 pitches to navigate through the third, fourth, and fifth innings.

His command wavered in a 27-pitch sixth inning as two walks and two singles gave the Twins two runs. In all, Bard threw 95 pitches, 55 for strikes.

His fastball climbed to 96 with a strikeout of Luke Hughes in the fifth inning and was still at 94 in the sixth. He threw his slider to the corners, worked in a solid changeup, and occasionally threw a two-seam sinking fastball.

“I felt good, really had four pitches working for me through a good chunk of the game,’’ Bard said. “Kind of really cruising up until the sixth.

“There are still some decisions to be made. But I really do feel like I’ve gotten better with each start. Throw the numbers aside, just how I’m throwing the ball, my comfortability on the mound. That’s what I’m focused on, just keep getting better.’’

The physical aspects of his transition from the bullpen have been easy, something that was in question given that he usually pitched no more than an inning as a setup man.

“If you put in the work in the weight room and running and side sessions, you’ll be ready to throw 100 pitches,’’ Bard said. “That’s not really a problem. It’s the mental grind of it that takes some getting used to.’’

Committing to Bard will require a leap of faith for the Red Sox given his 6.57 ERA and 16 walks in 24 2/3 innings this spring. But the Sox will look more at what he could be, not what he did in exhibition games.

“I feel like I have the potential to be a really good starter. It’s just a matter of opportunity now,’’ Bard said.

Bard said his conversations with Valentine and pitching coach Bob McClure have been positive. Although he hasn’t been told he’ll start, he has been told that if he is in the rotation, he’ll stay behind when the team leaves Monday to pitch in a minor league game Wednesday.

Bard acknowledged he was feeling some tension before the game, knowing it would affect the team’s decision. But once he was finished, there was relief and an eye on what will come next.

“There was something riding on it for me today,’’ Bard said. “It was more personal, 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.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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