FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Bobby Valentine said the back end of the rotation has yet to be resolved and three contenders -- Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves and Felix Doubront -- will be pitching in the next two days.
The fourth candidate, Aaron Cook, pitched in a Double-A minor league game Wednesday and was impressive. Cook pitched an "inning" in which he retired all six batters he faced on ground balls, throwing 13 pitches, 9 for strikes. The sinkerballer worked the equivalent of 5 innings, allowing 5 hits and a run, did not walk a batter and struck out 3. He had 11 ground-ball outs. He appears unlikely to break camp with the Sox, but he is going to help this team.
Aceves will face the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday, with Doubront pitching in a minor-league game. Bard is scheduled to pitch Friday against the Minnesota Twins.
Most likely outcome: Bard and Doubront win spots, Aceves starts the season in the bullpen and Cook begins the season either in Pawtucket, or perhaps better, in extended spring, where he can build up arm strength in warm weather.
Bard: It’s not a question of stuff for Bard, it will be his ability to repeat his delivery and his command. The potential for high reward is great -- Curt Schilling, who knows something about pitching -- says Bard has a No. 1’s stuff. Bard is all in on becoming a starter, and the benefits of developing a homegrown starter are great, especially from an economic standpoint. That said, there is risk involved: Bard was a bust as a starter in the minors, and even in college he was inconsistent. “You never knew what you were getting,’’ said one scout, adding that even then there were many who said Bard’s future belonged in the 'pen. “Some people even questioned his heart, which I never bought into, and perhaps he’s matured.’’ It’s worth finding out.
Downside? “His stuff is so good he doesn’t get a lot of contact, so he gets into a lot of deep counts,’’ the scout said. “There’s a chance that two out of every five starts he’s going to use up your bullpen.” Bard is countering that by relying more on his two-seamer, which is designed to get quick outs.
Doubront: Also homegrown, he’s the only left-hander in the group, and he was on the fast track to the big leagues last spring until he showed up out of shape, then had a series of nagging injuries. The Red Sox need to find out what they have here: Give him 10 to 15 starts to find out; if it doesn’t work out, they have fallback plans.
Aceves: He’s simply too valuable in the bullpen, especially early in the season, when starters may not go deep into games and the Sox need a pitcher who can go multiple days. Maybe Vicente Padilla will be that pitcher, but the Sox don’t know that yet. In the meantime, Aceves can fill that role, and if either Bard or Doubront falters, he can slide into starting without difficulty, as he proved last season.
Cook: He will start at some point for the Red Sox, as will Daisuke Matsuzaka and possibly Padilla, because teams go into a season knowing they will need 9 or 10 starters. With his history of shoulder issues, Cook can probably benefit from the time to build up arm strength -- his velocity has been in the 86 to 88 m.p.h. range -- and doing so in Florida might make even more sense than in Pawtucket, where he won’t have to deal with weather.