Bard excels, Valentine equivocates

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- And the answer is ...

Not yet.

Even after Daniel Bard struck out seven in six innings in a 9-7 win over the Minnesota Twins Friday, manager Bobby Valentine was not ready to declare a winner in the Great Red Sox Starting Rotation Lottery, whose payoff pales compared to Megamillions but still could have a great bearing on how the Red Sox do in the American League East this season.

"Bard looked good,'' Valentine said. "He ran out of gas a little, and got a little careless there with the leadoff hitter (walk) and a three-run lead (entering the sixth, when the Twins scored twice). A good learning experience. He threw the ball well, he did good.''

His progression since the start of camp in the conversion from reliever to starter?

"Basically where we hoped he could be and where he hoped he could be,'' Valentine said. "He wanted to come here and build, figure out all those nuances. I don't know if he figured out all of them, you still have to have some growing pains and experience. But I think physically, he got to be where he wants to be and he's a smart kid.''

OK, then, can you say what his role will be?

"No,'' he said. "We have a depth of starting pitching now. No doubt about it. As soon as you say that, you need another one. Sorry I said it."

Valentine had said before Friday's game that Bard was not pitching for his role in that afternoon's start. The pitcher looked at it a bit differently. He said it was hard not to think about it.

"At the same time,'' he said, "it's no different than pitching in a big game, when there's something riding on it. For me, it was more personal -- what my role's going to be. Hopefully sometime this season I'll be pitching in a big game and it'll be team oriented, something riding on it. But it's the same deal. There's that added pressure. That's fun. It gives you extra adrenaline.''

Did he think he was pitching for his spot in the rotation?

"It's hard to say,'' he said. "I talked to Bobby and Mac (pitching coavh Bob McClure) and haven't got a real clear answer. But at the same time up till yesterday, we had a conversation, they were still real positive--'Hey we want you to do this and fully commit to it.' I feel like I have their support.''

It's hard to fathom that the Sox would continue to press the case for starting with him and then reverse field, but Bard was not taking anything for granted. Technically, four candidates remain for the two spots--left-hander Felix Doubront, right-hander Alfredo Aceves, right-hander Aaron Cook and Bard.

"Ace and Cook and Doobie all had good springs, too, and are all good friends of mine,'' he said. "We're going to have a good pitching staff.

"It's a matter of what they want to go with. I feel like I have the potential to be a really good starter. It's a matter of opportunity.''

Bard issued a four-pitch walk to Joe Mauer with two out in the first, then gave up a gap double to Justin Morneau that scored a run. He then set down 13 of the next 14 batters he faced, striking out 7, a leadoff single by Mauer in the fourth accounting for the only Minnesota base-runner.

He walked Denard Span to open the sixth and then threw wildly to first on a pickoff attempt, Span advancing and scoring on a groundball single up the middle by Mauer. Morneau popped out, but a walk and bloop single by Sean Burroughs made it 4-3 before Luke Hughes popped out to end the inning.

Bard threw 95 pitches, 53 for strikes.

"The day felt good,'' he said. "I had four pitches working a good chunk of the game. I kind of was really cruising up until the sixth, I think getting through the lineup that third time, I got the feeling they'd seen everything I got, because I had really mixed it up a lot. I tried to be a little too perfect with pitches, which usually ends up the opposite from perfect. Which is kind of what happened.

"It was two runs, but at the same time I was able to limit the damage with a couple of popups there. I tried to focus on the big picture. I thought it was a good outing.''

The Red Sox break camp here Monday after an exhibition with the Washington Nationals. They play the Nationals again on Tuesday in D.C., then travel to Detroit for their regular season opener next Thursday. Bard said he has been told that if he ends up in the rotation, he would stay behind here and pitch five or six innings in a camp game, then meet the team in Detroit.

"It's got to be soon,'' Bard said when asked when he expected to hear a decision. "I mean, they've seen all they need to see, and all they can see. I got to think we'll know something by [Saturday], but that's just my guess.