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?

RHP Fairbanks, Rays agree to 3-year, $12 million contract

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Dave Nelson/USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Reliever Pete Fairbanks and the Tampa Bay Rays avoided arbitration when they agreed Friday to a three-year, $12 million contract that could be worth up to $24.6 million over four seasons.

The deal includes salaries of $3,666,666 this year and $3,666,667 in each of the next two seasons. The Rays have a $7 million option for 2026 with a $1 million buyout.

His 2024 and 2025 salaries could increase by $300,000 each based on games finished in the previous season: $150,000 each for 35 and 40.

Tampa Bay’s option price could increase by up to $6 million, including $4 million for appearances: $1 million each for 60 and 70 in 2025; $500,000 for 125 from 2023-25 and $1 million each for 135, 150 and 165 from 2023-25. The option price could increase by $2 million for games finished in 2025: $500,000 each for 25, 30, 35 and 40.

Fairbanks also has a $500,000 award bonus for winning the Hoffman/Rivera reliever of the year award and $200,000 for finishing second or third.

The 29-year-old right-hander is 11-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 15 saves in 111 appearances, with all but two of the outings coming out of the bullpen since being acquired by the Rays from the Texas Rangers in July 2019.

Fairbanks was 0-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 24 appearances last year after beginning the season on the 60-day injured list with a right lat strain.

Fairbanks made his 2022 debut on July 17 and tied for the team lead with eight saves despite being sidelined more than three months. In addition, he is 0-0 with a 3.60 ERA in 12 career postseason appearances, all with Tampa Bay.

He had asked for a raise from $714,400 to $1.9 million when proposed arbitration salaries were exchanged Jan. 13, and the Rays had offered for $1.5 million.

Fairbanks’ agreement was announced two days after left-hander Jeffrey Springs agreed to a $31 million, four-year contract with Tampa Bay that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

Tampa Bay remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, third baseman Yandy Diaz and outfielder Harold Ramirez.