Bobby V. on Bard: 'I liked everything'

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Takeaways from Toronto's Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, a name one step away from Pinellas County Bail Bonds, but we digress:

* Eleven days away from the opener, and on the day he proclaimed he "liked everything" about Daniel Bard's outing Sunday, does Bobby Valentine feel obliged to make a decision on the back end of his rotation within a certain time frame -- like soon?

"Not really,'' he said after the Red Sox lost in 10 innings, 6-5, to the Toronto Blue Jays. "I mean, it'll probably be made. I don't know if there will be any big announcements, but it looks like it's all coming together. No matter who's pitching, I like our pitching. We'll see how it works.''

So, OK, no announcements are on tap, but has Valentine made that decision already?

"I haven't in my mind,'' he said. "I think it will be an easy decision. It's not like we're going to be searching for pitchers starting games.''

Bard is one of four candidates left for two spots in the rotation, the others being Alfredo Aceves, Felix Doubront and Aaron Cook. Bard went six innings Sunday, giving up single runs in the second, third and fourth, and two in the sixth. He threw 85 pitches, 51 for strikes. After throwing just one changeup in his last start, which evoked concern from Valentine, he threw all four of his pitches, including 10 changes.

"Today was the first game I can actually say I felt like a starting pitcher out there and not like a reliever starting,'' he said afterward. "I used all four pitches and a steady mix of all four. I did it and felt confident about it. I threw the changeup pretty consistently. I threw a couple bad ones but for the most part it was good. I got some big outs. The breaking ball came and went all day. The two-seamer is a big pitch for me; I threw 25 or 30 of them.''

Bard said that when he came out of the game, he and catcher Kelly Shoppach agreed that it felt like he'd only given up a couple of runs, instead of the five he was charged with. Delusional? Not really. Adam Lind hit a high slider for a home run in the second. A walk, a wild pitch (changeup) and a flared two-out single produced another run in the third. Lind whacked a changeup the opposite way to open the fourth and came around to score on a single and double play. A hit batsman, Shoppach throwing error, walk and a two-run double by Edwin Encarnacion scored the last two in the sixth, which he ended strikeout, groundout, strikeout.

"He had some tough breaks, I thought,'' Valentine said. "He worked his way out of jams, he had some pitches that could have been called strikes and he didn't let it affect him. He threw all his pitches. His changeup was devastating at times. His slider was sharp. What wasn't there to like?

"I liked him in between innings. I liked how he was responding to things," said Valentine. "I thought he was really good today. He worked runners when they were on base, he got ground balls when he needed to. He got some swings and misses when he needed to.''

But a bottom line? Valentine remained unwilling to declare Bard a winner of a spot in the rotation. "Just like what I see,'' he said. "Good stuff.''

Offered the chance to declare he has won a roster spot, Bard declined.

"You got other guys throwing the ball well,'' he said. "There are a lot of candidates for two spots. Like I said, until I hear otherwise I'm preparing to be a starter. In my mind that's how it has to stay. I'm sure the other guys are doing the same.

"For a little while you wonder and you wonder, but I've gotten to the point it's out of my hands. I'm going to put the work in and do the best I can out there, every fifth day right now. If that shifts to a bullpen role, I'll do the same thing. Everything in life, if you can't control it, it's not worth worrying about it.''

How disappointed would he be if the decision did not break in his favor? "You have to ask me that when it happens,'' he said. "Right now I'm thinking about the positive, thinking about this outing.''

* Similarly, Valentine wasn't prepared to declare a winner at the shortstop spot, where Mike Aviles had two doubles and a single to raise his batting average to .333, which would seem to give him a decided edge over rookie Jose Iglesias, a splendid defender who at times this spring has shown improvement in his offensive approach but is batting just .174, which includes 1 hit in his last 13 at-bats.

"The whole spring, Mike has made all the plays at shortstop,'' Valentine said. "He's hit the ball hard most every game he's played. He looks like he's taken to the position like a duck to water.''

Aviles said he has given little thought to the positional battle.

"I don't even think of it,'' he said. "In all honesty, I don't even think of it. I just come to prepare for the season. As long as I'm taking good swings and making my plays, I know I'm preparing to be ready for the season. That's the bigger focus for me.''

Hard not to think about it?

"I'm kind of a tough-skinned person,'' he said, "so I don't really pay much mind. There's a bigger situation at hand. It's winning ballgames, winning championships. I'm not worried about who's playing where, where am I going to play? I play where I play. That's just what it's going to be. Bobby's going to make that call. He makes out the lineup. I follow accordingly.''

Ask him, however, if he feels he has done everything he could to win the job, Aviles doesn't hesitate. "Absolutely,'' he said.

* Ryan Lavarnway had three hits, including a double, and is batting .455.

* Opening Day starter Jon Lester is scheduled to pitch against the Phillies in Clearwater on Monday. He'll be opposed by Joe Blanton. Jonathan Papelbon was not on the list of pitchers scheduled for the Phils.