The Boston Red Sox bullpen remains a horror show. But, like any scary movie, there have to be moments where the audience can take a breath before they are plunged back into the nightmare. The 6-5 win by the Red Sox over the Minnesota Twins on April 23 was one of those moments of temporary relief. It will not last because the man who saved the day, if not the game, is himself just temporary relief.
Daniel Bard returned to his role as eighth-inning setup man, and helped the Red Sox escape from a critical one-out jam with a runner at third base in a tie game. Bard was only available because his scheduled start against the New York Yankees was rained out, and the Red Sox insist he will be back in the starting rotation when his turn comes up again on April 27.
"Now I still view myself as a starter," Bard said after picking up the win in Minnesota. "They said they do too. That's where they said they want me in the long run. For now, they said they're trying to address a need for a couple of days and keep me from going 10 days without throwing. I told them I was OK with it for now."
He, and the team, should be OK with it for much longer.
The Red Sox bullpen has been historically bad so far this season, going into the Minnesota series with an ERA above 9.00. The recent squandering of a nine-run lead against the Yankees was a low point in an already-low season. With expected closer Andrew Bailey injured, setup man Mark Melancon banished to the minor leagues, and new closer Alfredo Aceves wildly inconsistent, the Red Sox need someone to stabilize the bullpen and return pitchers to roles in which they can thrive. Having Bard in his familiar setup role would do that.
Sure, he has been vocal that he wants to be a starter, and the Red Sox seem to doubt his ability to handle the mental toll of closing. But the Twins game is evidence that the answer is clear. Move Bard back to the setup role and lengthen the bullpen.
Yes, he has been effective as a starter, and it may be where his future lies. But Boston needs to win games now, and he may have to take one for the team, as the saying goes.
There are starting alternatives. Aaron Cook has been especially sharp in the minor leagues, and can opt out of his contract May 1 if he is not called up. If that happens, someone will sign him and the Red Sox will lose much-needed depth. Right behind him is a rehabbing Daisuke Matsuzaka, due to join the rotation in 3-4 weeks.
The Red Sox have an identical 5-10 record as they had in 2011, just before they turned into the hottest team in the big leagues for four months. If they are to wake up and manage a similar turnaround in 2012, Bard's dream of being a starter will have to wait.
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Rick Blaine, an award-winning broadcaster and columnist, is a lifelong Red Sox fan. Follow him on Twitter @RickBlaineCT.