Daniel Bard

Daniel Bard gets his first win of the year. As a reliever.

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Last night, for the first time all year, the Red Sox bullpen looked like it was functional.  In a tie game, with no one out and a runner on third, a guy came in from the bullpen and put out the fire, then handed off to the closer in the ninth.  The fireman: Daniel Bard.

Bard got the win last night. He only threw two-thirds of an inning to do it, but it came at a time when getting any outs in the late innings has been a herculean task for Red Sox relievers. In taking the ball when he did and dousing the flames, Bard restored normalcy.  For now.

The problem: Daniel Bard is supposed to be starting. And, at least for now, he is still a starter. This is one of those deals, the Red Sox say, where a back of the rotation starter with early season offdays gets skipped and slotted into the bullpen. He’s scheduled to make his next start on Friday.

But those of us who loathe seeing promising young pitchers moved to the bullpen can be forgiven if this makes us uneasy, can’t we? Managers — especially managers who have witnessed recent bullpen implosions — tend to value relievers a lot more than they probably should and get comfortable having a young fireballer throwing an inning here or there instead of six or seven every fifth day.

When I see Daniel Bard do what he did last night, I see Ron Washington delaying Neftali Feliz’s addition to the rotation for a year. I see Dusty Baker refusing to give Aroldis Chapman a chance to start. I see Bobby Valentine, sitting in his office, realizing that the bullpen is the biggest problem on this Red Sox team at the moment and thinking that Bard can start some other time.

Irrational? Maybe. Managers are paid to win games first. It’s the GM’s job to think long term about a player’s role.  And, like I said, there is nothing the Red Sox have said or done yet that suggests that Operation Daniel Bard: Starting Pitcher is going to be cancelled or delayed. It’s a little swingman time early in the season at a time when the pen needs some help. Nothing more.

Tell me it’s nothing more, OK?

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.

Jason Kipnis diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates after scoring a run on a wild pitch thrown by Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs (not pictured) during the fifth inning in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Kipnis has received a cortisone shot and will be shut down from throwing for the next four to five days.

There’s a lot of spring left, so it’s perfectly sensible for the Indians to play it safe with their star player. The club already had Kipnis on a shoulder strengthening program.

Kipnis, 29, helped the Indians to the playoffs after batting .275/.343/.469 with 23 home runs, 92 RBI, 91 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 688 plate appearances during the regular season last year. He then helped the Indians reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs, where they were eventually stopped, as he provided a .741 OPS including four homers and eight RBI in 15 playoff games.