CHICAGO — If I told you that the Red Sox could trade for a 26-year-old starter with a 95-mph fastball, what would you think?
This starter has an an above-average slider, an improving changeup, and has shown he can go seven innings without losing velocity on his fastball. He is a proven commodity against American League East hitters and won’t be a free agent for another four years.
Like what you hear? Of course you do.
Then why would you move Daniel Bard to the bullpen?
Getting 150 or so innings of Bard is better than 73 and someday 215 innings will be a heck of a lot better than 73. That’s simple math and that’s why the Red Sox have gone down this path. Bard certainly showed his potential in tonight’s 10-3 victory against the White Sox.
He scattered six hits and allowed three runs, two of them earned, to drop his earned run average to 3.72 and raise his record to 2-2. He walked one and struck out six in what was clearly his best start of the season.
“I honestly do feel like I’ve gotten better with each outing, going all the way back to the spring,” Bard said. “I’ve gotten more comfortable throwing off-speed [pitches] in fastball counts. I’m more consistently throwing strike one with my fastball, which tonight was huge for me.
“Just a combination of things. I’m learning the little nuances of starting and tonight was a step in the right direction.”
Veteran Aaron Cook is 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA in four starts for Triple A Pawtucket and can declare free agency Tuesday if he is not in the majors. As manager Bobby Valentine said, that has put Bard under a microscope. But it doesn’t show on the mound.
“I’ve been very impressed with his focus. Those things could have gotten him mentally out of touch with his start,” Valentine said. “There was a lot to like from what I saw tonight.”
Bard was efficient, throwing 63 of his 96 pitches for strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of the 29 batters he faced and changed speeds with his slider, throwing it as hard as 85 mph and then dropping it down to 78 to induce contact.
“It’s hard to put it all into words. We’ve seen an evolution,” Valentine said of Bard’s maturation as a starter. “The first time we looked at him, we were worried if he could have a wind-up.”
As Bard handled the White Sox, the Red Sox continued to pile up runs. They have scored six or more runs in the last six games and now lead the majors with 114.
Outside of Kevin Youkilis, who walked twice, every starter had at least one hit. Darnell McDonald was 2 for 4 with a three-run double and a solo home run. The four RBIs were a career high for him.
David Ortiz, now hitting .425, was 2 for 4 with another home run. He also hit a ball to center field that was, as Valentine said, crushed. But the wind turned into an out.
“This is a dangerous team right now,” McDonald said. “We hit rock bottom when we were home, like Bobby said, and we started over. Everybody is doing something and David is leading us.”
Bard wanted to go another inning at least and Valentine felt he had a complete game in him. But with the cold, seven innings was enough.
After all, you have to protect your best starters.