Ask Nick: Is sending down Daniel Bard the right decision?

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The subject of the week is obviously Daniel Bard being demoted to Pawtucket.

Fans had a lot to say about Bard’s starting experiment. I remember some twidiots getting on me about Bard needing to stay in the rotation when I’ve been consistent about him being in the bullpen. I agreed with Bobby Valentine that sending him back to the bullpen now would disrupt the flow of the seven pitchers there now and you’d lose one on waivers. So sending him down was the right thing.

If this were a different market with lower expectations, Bard could work out his problems on the fly as he wanted to. But not in Boston. You’re trying to contend, not develop. You can do both in different markets. I think the Blue Jays were very patient with Brandon Morrow and his transition to the pen, but they could afford to be.

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I’m not saying Bard will never be a starter because I think he’s going to figure it out, but I’d be surprised if he comes back to the starting rotation this season. Once Daisuke Matsuzaka comes up, and if he performs reasonably well, it’s hard to find a spot in that rotation for him. There may be a stretch where they can go with six starters, but not for long.

Bobby Valentine has made some tough decisions. He sent Mark Melancon back when he was struggling and has done it again with Bard.

Nick, thanks for keeping us in the loop with inside perspective. Did the Red Sox decision-makers totally disregard past performance? Given the minor league history of Daniel Bard as a starting pitcher, please give the rationale on his chances of success as a major league starter. Am I mistaken that Bard’s baseball career was in jeopardy as a starter due to extreme wildness? Who exactly were the proponents of his change to starter status with the current club?
— Bill, Melbourne, Florida

I think Ben Cherington and his baseball operations bought into it. The decision was made before Bobby V got there. He resisted it all of spring training but didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. I mean you can’t always go by the past. Guys evolve and they thought he had evolved. Like I said, if this was Kansas City or Pittsburgh, he’d have time to develop and work his problems out on the fly.

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I have a question regarding Manny Ramirez’s 50-game suspension. If he was suspended from baseball through the end of May, why was he allowed to play in the minors? Was this due to a loophole in the rules?
— Gary, Enfield, Connecticut

No loophole. They are allowed a rehab assignment prior to joining major league team.

The Sox have an excess of lefthanded-hitting outfielders and a righthanded hitting outfielder, Juan Carlos Linares, hitting the cover off the ball in the minors over the last few seasons. Darnell McDonald has proven he can’t hit major league pitching and Linares could give them same balance in the lineup. Kids like Daniel Nava and Will Middlebrooks have given this team a big shot in the arm and Linares could help do the same. Why aren’t they giving him a look especially with all the injuries they’ve had?
— Chris, Atlanta

Good question. I always hear good things about him, but they never seem to consider him. One of those guys just lost in the shuffle. Guys get buried like that sometimes. There’s a preconceived opinion about what they are by the people who run the minors and it’s really tough for players to blast through that.

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Given the way Jarrod Saltalamacchia is performing — do you see the Sox possibly looking at Lavarnway as trade bait now?
— John, Cohasset

Anything is possible, but I would think they’d want a Salty-Lavarnway combo up there shortly.
What do you think of Kevin Youkilis to the Reds, Matt Garza to the Sox and prospects from both teams to the Cubs?
— Bill, New York

Well, the Reds seem to like their young third baseman Todd Frazier, so I’d say no to that. Doubt the Cubs want an older player. Theo has been trying to get rid of all of them. Plenty of teams scouting Youkilis including D-Backs, Phillies, Dodgers and White Sox. No shortage of suitors, but not feeling the Cubs. Of those teams I think the Phillies look to be the most interested.
Why is Scott Atchison so effective? He doesn’t have blazing speed nor mystifying breaking stuff. It is such an amazing story.
— Jack, Brookline

Strike-thrower. That’s the key to good relief. He doesn’t hurt himself. He attacks hitters and has good location. Learned how to pitch.
Even though the All-star game is a popularity contest, is there any chance that Mike Aviles and Scott Atchison get the credit that they deserve?
— Mick, Virginia

I would think Aviles has an outside shot. But Atchison, probably not. There was a trend there for a while about taking non-closers, but you don’t see that as often now. Too much pressure to seek and find the bigger name.
In another example of who’s running the asylum: When Pedroia said he was playing Tuesday, he was asked if the Sox had given him the green light to play.
His response was: “They don’t tell me anything, man. I play Tuesday. I’ll see you guys there.” Even with his status, after the way his rebuke of Valentine was taken earlier this season, can’t he see that he comes off entitled and above reproach? Who is in charge over there?
— Joe, South Dartmouth

I was critical of Pedroia for his Valentine comment on the Youkilis matter. Not on this one. Here’s a guy who should have gone on the DL and didn’t. They have to ask him when he can play in that situation and that’s what he said. I commend him for playing through it. Most guys would go on the DL.
I notice that when Lavarnway doesn’t catch (I know he can’t catch all the time) at Pawtucket, he rarely is at DH. Why don’t they DH him more often to give him more at bats, considering he is one of the organization’s top prospects?
— Paul, Boston

I think he needs his rest. They’re catching him more than he’s ever caught and he seems to be wearing down. So I think they like to give him complete days off.
Once everyone gets back healthy, do you replace Daniel Nava (if he is still playing at a high level) for Carl Crawford?
— Brandon, Asheville, North Carolina

Awesome question. I asked Valentine that one day and I didn’t get answer. He loves Nava. But $20 million is $20 million, so I suppose he’ll be back and Nava could either play right or come off the bench.
I realize that the bullpen has developed into a strength, but why have they not brought Mark Melancon back up. He has been lights-out in Pawtucket.
— Ron, Bow, New Hampshire

Because you don’t want to disrupt seven relievers who are all pitching well. You’d have to put one of them on waivers. So who do you part company with? And why? Melancon is there when they need him. They also have Clay Mortenson (who is really the guy Valentine would like to get up if someone got hurt) and Junichi Tazawa, all of whom have pitched well. You also have Andrew Bailey progressing.
Nick, why do you answer silly questions, like why doesn’t Middlebrooks play second? Hello? Try this — if he continues to progress at a quick rate, where do you see Xander Bogaerts fitting in with the big club? Infield will be covered by the time he arrives.
— Rod, Halifax, Nova Scotia

I like to. I’m answering this one. Middlebrooks has taken ground balls at short and second base, just in case, especially when Pedroia was out. Bogaerts is staying at shortstop as far as I can tell. He could be trade bait at some point, or it could force them to deal Jose Iglesias.
Why do you feel the need to give smart-aleck answers? Like the one about Middlebrooks playing second. You answer because he’s a third baseman. Or your remark to a question about Ortiz bunting. In any profession including pro baseball you need to be versatile, continue learning and improving yourself to remain competitive. I see nothing wrong with Ortiz learning to bunt (which he could have mastered years ago) or Middlebrooks giving short or second a try. These guys are athletically gifted and paid very well to boot. Heck, Adrian Gonzalez is holding his own in right. Dial that pitching machine up to 90 and have Ortiz bunt 50 times every day. If he starts putting bunts down third imagine what his average would be. Middlebrooks could spend time at short or second before every game. so enough with the smart-aleck answers and stop giving the guys a pass.
— Jeff, Fogelsville, Pennsylvania

OK Jeff, I’ll get the bunting machine ready for Ortiz. That’s what I want my biggest slugger to do, bunt. I’m sure the opposition would love it. As I answered in a previous question, Middlebrooks did take grounders at short and second as an emergency when Pedroia got hurt. Hope that satisfies you.
Other than swinging the bat, what is Saltalamacchia really doing that well? With five errors, Salty leads the AL and is just one back of the overall MLB leader. He stands alone in MLB play with a catcher’s ERA of 4.97. No other qualifying catcher is close. His caught stealing percentage at 14.3 is also almost the worst in the combined big leagues. No way he can make up for the runs he costs us behind the plate with his bat. That’s why I say trade him while he’s hot. Some teams need that offense a lot more than we do and might overlook the shortcomings. Salty is a good kid with his heart in the right place, but I’d like to see Lavarnway given the chance.
— Charles, Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Good points and numbers to back it up, but he’s much improved. He’s never going to be a smooth catcher, but as Valentine has pointed out recently he’s taken charge of the pitching staff which is something he wasn’t doing before. He has great raw power and if he exhibits that you put up with the defensive shortcomings.