The Red Sox are sending Daniel Bard back to the bullpen. The question is for how long?
Bard was set to start Sunday night’s game against the Yankees before it was postponed by rain. But instead of having him pitch against the Twins in Minnesota Monday, Bard will be skipped in the rotation and be available in the bullpen.
Manager Bobby Valentine said the reason was to keep Jon Lester and Josh Beckett close to their regular routines. Lester last pitched Tuesday and Beckett Wednesday.
If Bard stayed in the rotation, Lester and Beckett would go six days between starts, two more than usual. Both told Valentine they preferred not to do that.
“It doesn’t really work,’’ Valentine said.
Valentine said Bard remains in the rotation and is scheduled to face the White Sox in Chicago Friday.
“As the plan is now, he’s our fifth starter,’’ the manager said.
If the plan holds, Bard would be available in the bullpen Monday and possibly Tuesday.
“I’d like to use him if we have a lead in the eighth inning, just as he’s been comfortable doing in the past. Maybe bail out in the seventh,’’ Valentine said. “I don’t think it’s an easy job. But it should be acceptable physically.
“I wish all this stuff was easy. I wish any decision at all over the last 16 days, I wish one of them was easy. There haven’t been many easy decisions and this isn’t one of the easy decisions. But it had to be made and that’s how we made it.’’
Given the state of the 4-10 Red Sox, their plans could change. Bard was an elite set-up man before being moved into the rotation and his return to the bullpen would strengthen a glaring weakness on the team.
Red Sox relievers have allowed 40 earned runs on 60 hits - 11 of them home runs - over 42 2/3 innings. The bullpen blew an eight-run lead against the Yankees Saturday, six relievers combining to give up 14 runs on 12 hits over three innings. It was the fifth consecutive loss for the Red Sox.
The Sox also have a replacement ready for Bard in 33-year-old righthander Aaron Cook, who is 2-0 with a 1.35 earned run average in three starts at Triple A Pawtucket. Cook has the right to declare free agency May 1 if he is not in the major leagues.
Further complicating the decision is the fact that Bard has pitched fairly well in his two starts, posting a 4.63 ERA and striking out 13 in 11 2/3 innings.
“We think he can be a very good starter for our team,’’ Valentine said.
If the Red Sox had enough competent relievers, keeping Bard in the rotation would be an easy call. But they don’t.
“We obviously are going to pitch better,’’ Valentine said. “We’ve had some good starts and we’ve had some good relief appearances. When you see the good, you think it can be replicated. I don’t think it’s a fluke.’’
The Red Sox did not make Bard available for comment. He has said several times that he wants to be a starter and is comfortable in that role.
Valentine was in good spirits Sunday, saying he hoped the rainout would be “a good psychological day for us.’’ The Sox took batting practice indoors before flying to Minnesota.
“I’m not good at rating things. But this has been a tough week,’’ Valentine said. “If I had to rate them all, this is one of the tougher ones for sure, if not the toughest. We came into the season with a lot of decisions and we still have a lot of decisions we have to make. I think guys are going to make those decisions easier as the season goes along.
“I kind of like this team. I know when you’re 4-10, it’s not easy to say that everything is going perfectly. But the players are good players, high quality, who are going to win a lot of games.’’
Saturday’s game turned ugly with the sellout crowd booing Valentine loudly when he made pitching changes. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he never has had that happen to him.
“Not as a manager, not up to this point,’’ he said. “I imagine it’s tough.’’
Valentine met with general manager Ben Cherington, owner John Henry, and team president Larry Lucchino after the game. Cherington said later that he was “very satisfied’’ with the job Valentine has done in his first season as the team’s manager.
Valentine said the meeting was helpful. But he doesn’t think he’s getting the job done.
“I’m not satisfied with the job I did. I don’t need to hear from Ben or ownership or fans or anyone else. I’ve got to do better,’’ he said.
“Hitters go in slumps; pitchers go in slumps; managers go in slumps. You know? You figure it out. The record is the only thing that I’m judged on. I don’t accept four wins in 14 games.’’
Valentine was asked how a manager could get out of a slump.
“I like swinging my way out,’’ he said.Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.