The debate is over, at least for the present time. Daniel Bard will be a member of the 2012 starting rotation to begin the season. After months of speculation and a great deal of hand-wringing in the media and on talk-radio airwaves, the 26 year old Bard will not return to the bullpen, but instead complete his transition from reliever to starter by pitching in games that actually count.
The debate over of whether or not Bard should get a chance to start has been raging ever since the Red Sox announced the plan to convert the setup man back in November. Critics of the plan have cited his first professional season in 2007, where as a starter, Bard walked 8.17 per nine while striking out just 5.55. Starting pitching was far less a factor in that lack of control than an alteration in his mechanics made by the Red Sox. In 2008, a return to his original mechanics, which made him a successful college starter, and the switch to the bullpen propelled Bard to the major leagues. Since 2009, he has been among the best setup men in baseball. He will now get a chance to see if his 97 mph fastball and knee-buckling slider are enough to make him a viable starter.
Spring Training has been a roller coaster for Bard as he has made this transition. His number overall have been pretty bad. He has a 6.57 ERA and 16 walks against 18 strike outs in just over 24 innings pitched. However, the process has been an evolving one. Bard has focused on using his change up more; he threw it less than 10% of the time as a reliever. He may also be developing a second fastball grip, a two-seamer, to contrast with his blazing fast four-seamer.
After a difficult start against the Toronto Blue Jays on March 20, manager Bobby Valentine criticized Bard for not throwing enough change-ups, sparking speculation that he was headed back to the bullpen. In his next start, Bard allowed more runs but clearly impressed him manager with a better game plan and a more varied arsenal. Bard put everything together in his last start, striking out seven and allowing just three hits against the Minnesota Twins.
Bard will likely get his first major league start on April 10 on the road against the Toronto Blue Jays at 7:05 PM.