Daniel Bard: Not bad for starters

TORONTO -- Hey, the Wright Brothers crashed a few times before they took flight too. We suspect there were occasions that Bell was greeted with silence at the other end of the line, and a time or two when Edison said "Let there be light" but was greeted with darkness.

So we can say with some assurance that the Boston Red Sox are not about to abandon the Daniel Bard experiment one start into his conversion from reliever to member of the rotation.

"His pitches were good, very good," manager Bobby Valentine said Tuesday night after a 7-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays dropped Boston's record to 1-4. "They were not quite the results he was looking for, he's a little disappointed. You take that 30 times a year, you're going to get a lot of wins. I'll bet anything on that."

Yes, there were sparks and smoke and strange noises emanating from the laboratory that was Rogers Centre on Tuesday night, not to mention someone almost naked enough to be a streaker, if you ignored the white socks and colored skivvies.

But while Bard would have preferred a different outcome -- he was charged with five runs and eight hits and had an unplanned exit two batters into the sixth inning, nobody's idea of a rousing debut -- there were plenty of positives to be taken away.

The 17 swinging strikes, for example, and two whiffs of Jays strongman Jose Bautista. The fastball that touched 98 but was especially effective because Bard constantly changed speeds with it, keeping the Jays off balance. A slider that he was able to throw for strikes all night, including a beautiful front-door slider to Adam Lind. A changeup he threw only a half-dozen times or so, mostly in Toronto's third time through the order, because the fastball-slider combo was proving so effective.

He kept the ball in the ballpark -- six of the Jays' eight hits off Bard came on ground balls -- and he didn't walk a batter until the sixth, when Edwin Encarncion drew a full-count free pass to lead off the inning.

"Honestly, the only pitches I might take back all night was getting a little too fancy with Encarnacion," Bard said. "I thought I was throwing the slider for a strike pretty much at will all night. I went to it 3-and-2 and tried to make it too good. I should I have thrown a 'strike' slider or stuck with the fastball. That's probably the only pitch I'd take back all night."

The run-scoring double that the left-handed Lind smacked down the third-base line past Kevin Youkilis?

"I made a good pitch," Bard said of his high-and-tight fastball. "He was beat on the fastball. But we had him played so much to pull, it was a perfectly placed ball. That's an out nine times out of 10."

The Jays scored twice more in the third when Yunel Escobar hit a jam-shot single to center on a 97 mph fastball and Reed Johnson followed with a ground-ball single through the right side. Bard struck out Bautista, but Lind hit an 0-and-2 fastball right past Bard's noggin into center field for a run-scoring single.

"He sat on it," Bard said, "but it was a good pitch, well above the belt and inside. You tip your hat to him. A good piece of hitting."

One out later, Brett Lawrie punched a ground ball through the right side, and it was 3-0.

"All you can ask for is weak contact," said Bard, who had only three balls squared up on him the entire game: Bautista's line-drive out in the first, Lind's base hit and Johnson's liner in the fifth that was backhanded in dazzling fashion by second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

"If they're going to shorten up and poke it through the infield, that's smart baseball, I guess. We're playing on turf, might as well use it. But I wouldn't change any of the pitches I threw."

Bard threw 96 pitches, but he felt he had another 25 or so left in him when Valentine came to take him out in the sixth with two men on.

"I didn't want to push the envelope in his first start," the manager said.

Bard would have liked to have stayed in. "You always want to get out of your own jams," he said. "Me, especially, because that's where I think I thrive, because I've done it so much, getting other guys out of theirs."

But Valentine had made his decision. He brought in lefty Justin Thomas, a nonroster pitcher who was ticketed for Triple-A until Andrew Miller strained a hamstring, to face lefty Eric Thames. Valentine had Matt Albers ready in case Toronto manager John Farrell inserted a right-handed pinch hitter, Rajai Davis.

Farrell decided to take his chances with Thames, and Thomas walked him, the cardinal sin for a lefty specialist, loading the bases. Another decision: Time to bring in the sinkerballing Albers?
Valentine elected to stay with Thomas, hoping J.P. Arencibia might roll over on a changeup from Thomas and hit into a double play.

Instead, Arencibia hit a high changeup off the end of his bat into center field for a two-run single, Colby Rasmus followed with a sacrifice fly, and the Toronto lead was 6-1.

"Just a dumb move," Valentine said. "Six one way or another. Go with the sinker and try to get the ground ball or go with the changeup. If he got it down, it would have been a ground ball, but he got it up and [Arencibia] flipped it over the infield.

"I should have gone the other way. I was hoping. I don't like to hope."

Valentine did not disagree when it was suggested to him that part of the problem was not knowing what he had in a guy like Thomas.

"I'm learning," he said.

The enduring lesson learned Tuesday, though, revolved around Bard. There will be a next time.

"I feel good about it," Bard said. "The results obviously stunk. I recognize that, but I'm not frustrated with it. I wouldn't change the way I threw."