Daniel Bard has appeared in 33 games — tied for the most in the American League — and thrown 34.2 innings this season.
He's on a pace that would see him throw 82 innings over 80 appearances. That would be a significant progression from last season when Bard appeared in 60 games and threw 65.1 innings for Pawtucket and Boston.
Would that be too much of a step up for a 25-year-old pitcher who is in his second season in the majors?
"It's something we have certainly been aware of," Terry Francona said last night. "We ran into that with [Hideki Okajima] a couple of years ago. When you get a guy that's getting them, you want to run them out there every night. That's why we keep that chart. That's why we keep an eye on things, how much they're up and down [in the bullpen]. We don't want to take a good thing and turn it into something where he's on fumes in August. That's not a good way to manage."
According to Francona, Bard is good at communicating with the coaches and letting them know when he needs a day off. But at the same time, there is pressure on any pitcher to take the ball when needed. Veteran players don't want to lose a game because somebody didn't want to pitch.
There's a delicate balance between being smart and being a "gamer." Over the years, plenty of gamers have ended up with sore arms.
The Sox do a good job of avoiding what relievers indelicately call "dry humps." That's when a reliever gets up in the bullpen, gets warmed up, then sits down and isn't used. Some managers — hello, Joe Torre and Dusty Baker — will wear relievers out doing that. Others are much more cautious.
Teams have a very good idea of how workloads impact young starters. It's more difficult to gauge that for relievers because some innings are less stressful than others and the days off can vary greatly.
But given his value — now and down the road — the Sox will surely monitor how Bard is used and be cautious.
The best solution? Obtain another reliever Francona can trust in the eighth inning. Right now there isn't one.