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?