Daniel Bard’s debut as a starting pitcher for the Red Sox did not end in the result anyone wanted. Now 1-4 on the season, the Sox will play one more game in Toronto today before an off-day tomorrow and the Home Opener on Friday April 13.
Bard has prepared all off-season and Spring Training to pitch as a starter. Though he was believed to be the front-runner to take over for Jonathon Papelbon as the closer, he wanted to start and the Sox gave him that chance. He beat out Alfredo Aceves for the last spot in the rotation, but when new closer Andrew Bailey went down with a thumb injury, many wondered if he might move back into the bullpen.
Instead, Bard started for the first time in his Major League career, going into the sixth inning, allowing five runs out of eight hits, with one walk and six strikeouts. The first inning did not go smoothly and Bard allowed a single to Blue Jay’s shortstop Yunel Escobar who scored when first-baseman Adam Lind hit a double with two outs and gave the Blue Jays a 1-0 lead.
In the second, Bard got the Blue Jays to go down in order, but he allowed two more runs in the third. Escobar and second baseman Kelly Johnson started off the inning with singles, and though Bard struck out the fearsome right-fielder Jose Bautista, Lind hit a RBI single. Bard got his second out before letting up a single to third baseman Brett Lawrie that had a plate at home after right-fielder Ryan Sweeney made a strong throw to catcher Jarrod Salalamacchia, but Johnson was called safe. The Blue Jays ended the inning up 3-0.
The fourth and fifth innings went well for Bard who got seven outs consecutively. The Sox got on the board in the top of the sixth inning after center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury walked, went to third on second baseman Dustin Pedroia’s double, and scored when Adrian Gonzalez hit a sacrifice fly. Pedroia just beat out the throw to third on the play, and with only one out, Blue Jay’s starter Kyle Drabek walked Ortiz. They failed to come up with more runs for Bard because Youkilis hit into a double play.
Bard got off to a rough start in the sixth when he walked DH Edwin Encarnacion who then stole second. Lawrie followed up with an infield hit, which signaled the end of the game for Bard. Left-handed pitcher Justin Thomas came in in relief and allowed three more runs to score. Lawrie stole second, left-fielder Eric Thames walked to load the bases, allowing catcher J.P. Arencibia to hit a two-run single. The third run came off of center-fielder Colby Rasmus’ sacrifice fly.
Encarnacion hit a homerun off of Sox pitcher Michael Bowden in the seventh, giving the Blue Jays a 7-1 lead. In the ninth, the Sox got two runs when Gonzalez hit a two-run double after shortstop Nick Punto singled, Ellsbury walked, and Pedroia singled. Ortiz came up with Pedroia and Gonzalez still on base, but struck out to end the game.
This was not the way Bard would have liked to start off his starting pitching career, but he did have strong moments. It was a game the Sox could have won if the offense could put together a string of well-placed hits. Bard is likely to have some learning curves he will have to overcome, especially in the beginning of the season, but he showed promising signs of being a successful starter in Spring Training as well as in last night’s game. His success could rely on the durability of the rest of the rotation. Lester and Doubront were dominant in each of their games, while Beckett and Buchholz let up a lot of runs. If Valentine and the Sox are patient with Bard, and up until now they have been, then he could have the chance to be an effective starter as the season progresses. With the state of the Sox pitching in doubt, both in the rotation and bullpen, the worry is how much patience is enough or too much.
The Red Sox need to win the game this afternoon with Jon Lester on the mound against the Blue Jay’s Ricky Romero. Then they can come home to Fenway Park and gain some momentum with the support of the fans behind them.