With the 2012 regular season coming in less than a week, Bobby Valentine and the Boston Red Sox still have to solidify their starting rotation. Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz all appear to be in good health and will fill the first three starting roles. The last two spots have three qualified options in Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, and Felix Doubront.
Whoever doesn’t get the starting role will go back into the bullpen and play a critical role there, but all three pitchers want their chance in the rotation.
Daniel Bard was once believed to be primed for the closing position after Jonathon Papelbon left for the Phillies. This offseason, he expressed interest in changing from a set-up role in the bullpen to full-time starter. Combined with the acquisition of closer Andrew Bailey from the Athletics, the team is giving him that chance during Spring Training. In his 18.2 innings pitched over five games, Bard has a 7.23 ERA, 17 hits allowed, 15 runs allowed, 13 walks, and 11 strikeouts, with a WHIP of 1.61. Spring Training is meant to help players get back into baseball playing mode and for Bard, he’s adjusting to a new role, so his spring stats does not necessarily mean he won’t be successful in the regular season.
Bard’s previous experience as a starter has been limited. He started in college with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, being named Freshman All-America and was also successful in the Cape Cod League with the Wareham Gatemen. In 2006, he and former Sox pitcher Andrew Miller helped UNC to the College World Series, but they didn’t win. In 2006, the Red Sox drafted Bard as a started, but he did not pitch well for the Greenville Drive and Lancaster Jethawks. He had a 7.05 ERA and a high walk percentage with 78 over 75.33 innings pitched. By the end of the season, he transitioned into a bullpen role where he has been successful. In three seasons at the Major League level, Bard has a 2.88 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP, 213 strikeouts, 76 walks, and a .190 BA against him.
It figures that Valentine and the Sox will watch his game this afternoon against the Twins very closely because when he pitched his last game against the Blue Jays, he let up six hits, five runs, had three walks, and five strikeouts over six innings.
Alfredo Aceves has gone back and forth between a role in the rotation and bullpen throughout his career with both the Yankees and Red Sox. He would love a chance to start, but he is also valuable to the bullpen, so his role is in question. This year in Spring Training, he has pitched 18.0 innings in five games, has a 5.50 ERA, has allowed 18 hits, 12 runs, 3 walks, and 15 strikeouts. He pitched against the Blue Jays in his last game, allowing three hits, two runs, two walks, and four strikeouts over six innings in a rebound performance from his one poor outing in spring the game before. Though Aceves would love the chance to start, it will be difficult for the Sox to take him out of the bullpen.
Over his career, Aceves started with the Blue Jays affiliate Mexico teams before his contract was purchased by the Yucatan Leones. For the next six years, he played for both the Leones and the Sultanes de Monterrey before being taken by the Yankees. He did well in 2008 where he pitched in relief before an injury to a teammate put him in a starting role. He did even better in 2009 before he had a strained lower back and a broken collarbone. The Yankees did not sign him after the 2010 season, leading him to the Red Sox where he played a variety of roles from the bullpen to spot started throughout the 2011 season. In his major league career, he has a 2.93 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP, 167 strikeouts, 72 walks, and a .213 BA against him.
Aceves is a versatile player who will help this team in any role he plays, so now it’s a question of whether both Bard and Doubront can be successful as starters.
Felix Doubront is a highly-touted Red Sox prospect who is now out of options. He has lived up to expectations this spring and will surely be a part of the Major League team in any role he plays. This spring, he has pitched 16.2 innings in four games, with a 2.70 ERA, 18 hits allowed, five runs, six walks, and ten strikeouts, with a 1.44 WHIP. He is coming off of an excellent start against a minor league team in which he allowed only two hits and no runs, with one walk and four strikeouts over six innings. He is a lefthander who has proven himself coming into Spring Training in great shape. He has been plagued with injuries in the past, but so far he looks healthy and is ready to play a lasting, significant role for the Sox.
Drafted by the Red Sox, he has played on a number of their Minor League affiliates as both a starter and a relief pitcher. Over the years, he has earned various awards for his pitching in the minor leagues, including Pitcher of the Week and month, 2008’s South Atlantic League All-Star, and 2009’s Portland Sea Dogs Pitcher of the Year. In 2010, he made his Major League debut and did fairly well for a Red Sox team that struggled with staying healthy. He battled injury himself in 2011 and only made a few appearances in the Major Leagues. His career Major League experience has him with a 4.84 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 29 strikeouts, 18 walks, and a .283 BA against him.
He has thus far impressed his new manager and wants to start, and throwing left-handed gives him an interesting difference between right-handers Bard and Aceves. More maturity and better health have provided him with more confidence that might just give him the edge in securing one of the rotation spots.
This competition is good for the Red Sox as, from the past few seasons shows, teams can never have enough good starting pitching. Even if only two of the three players can make the starting rotation out of the gate, it does not rule them out for spot starts, or something more permanent, as the season progresses.