DALLAS -- The Red Sox are warming to the idea of turning accomplished set-up man Daniel Bard into a starting pitcher, a plan that gained traction when the righthander told manager Bobby Valentine today that would be his preference.
Bard has long voiced that hope. But now the Red Sox are listening given the holes in their rotation and the lack of palatable options on the free-agent market.
Bard made it clear to Valentine that he would embrace whatever role helps the team best. But the Red Sox seem comfortable with the idea of at least giving Bard the opportunity knowing that he could always return to the bullpen if it doesn’t work out.
"We're still talking about it," general manager Ben Cherington said. "There's always the chance that isn't determined now, but later on or in spring training. We certainly want to give Daniel a chance to prepare for spring training in the right way, and so we’ll figure that out."
Bard was a starter at the University of North Carolina, but flamed out as a minor league starter in 2007, posting a 7.08 earned run average. The Sox put him in the bullpen and the results have been impressive. Bard has a 2.88 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP over three seasons while averaging 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings.
Bard has since improved his changeup to a point where it's a viable third pitch. He also has shown a better ability to sink his fastball. Clearly he would have to use his slider more as a starter, too.
The Rangers converted Alexi Ogando from set-up man to starter last season. He was 13-8 with a 3.52 ERA, throwing 169 innings. The Sox have already told reliever Alfredo Aceves to prepare himself to start next season.
Bard would seem like a logical replacement for closer Jonathan Papelbon, who signed with the Philadelphia Phillies last month. But the Red Sox could find a low-cost closer on the market and use Bard in the rotation.
Available closers include Ryan Madson, Francisco Rodriguez, Brad Lidge and Francisco Cordero. The Sox also could trade for a closer. Colorado is reportedly willing to discuss Huston Street and there's at least a shot of getting Andrew Bailey from Oakland.
Another possibility would be — don't wince — Bobby Jenks. The former White Sox closer appeared in only 19 games for the Red Sox last season because of injuries. He is scheduled for back surgery next week, having fully recovered from a pulmonary embolism that ended his season in July.
"Recovery from that would put him in place to be pitching in spring training," Cherington said. "Doctors are saying he's going to be ready for spring training. They're confident it's a relatively minor thing."
Given the variance inherent in relief pitchers — and the fact that he will be pitching for a contract at the age of 31 — Jenks could return to form in 2012.
"He can be a big factor," Cherington said.
The first step with all these moving pieces would be putting Bard on a throwing program that will prepare him for throwing 150 innings instead of 75.
"I think that we have to talk about how to prepare [Bard] for spring training and that’s something we'll need to do pretty soon,' Cherington said. "I don’t know that we have to have his role completely defined. Maybe we will. But I don't think we have to. I do think it relates some to decisions we'll make on our pitching this offseason. It's not just Daniel, it’s other guys, too."