FORT MYERS, Fla. — Daniel Bard is happy with his conversion from a reliever to starter this spring. So is manager Bobby Valentine.
Now, he’ll have to wait and see if it was enough to lock up a spot in the Red Sox’s rotation this season.
Bard made his final case Friday, striking out seven and giving up three runs on four hits through six innings of a 9-7 victory over a Minnesota Twins split-squad. Cody Ross led the Red Sox offense with a pair of two-run home runs.
“There are still some decisions to be made, but I really feel like I’ve gotten better with each start,” Bard said. “Throw the numbers aside, just how I’m throwing the ball. My comfort throwing out on the mound. That’s my purpose, just to keep getting better.”
Bard gave up one run through five innings before faltering late. The former reliever has been competing with Alfredo Aceves, Felix Doubront and Aaron Cook for the final two starting pitching spots for the Red Sox the last month.
Valentine would not say whether Bard’s performance was enough.
“Basically, he’s where we hoped he would be and where he hoped he could be,” Valentine said. “He wanted to come here and build and fill all those little nuances. I don’t know that he figured them all out. You still have some growing pains and some learning experience, but I think physically, he got to where he wants to be and he’s a smart kid.”
Ross, meanwhile, has made a fast impression on his new club, adding his team-leading fifth and sixth homers of the spring after entering the game with a .342 batting average.
“It’s a great feeling,” Ross said. “This is my 12th or 13th year through pro ball, and I’ve been on a few teams, and it doesn’t matter what anyone says, if you’re 18 or 28 or 31 like I am – anytime you go to a new team, you feel like you have to prove yourself again. Especially coming off of a bad year, you feel like you have to show, ‘Oh, I can still play, I can still compete at the high level and I’m still a good player.
“It’s constant pressure, which is good,” said Ross, who batted .240 last year.
Also hitting well once again was Joe Mauer. The Twins’ catcher added two singles to raise his spring training average to .367 after dropping to a career-low .287 last year while battling injuries.
The former American League MVP and three-time batting champion is healthy again, and it shows.
“That’s just seeing more pitches, getting more at-bats,” Mauer said. “That’s what spring training’s for — to get your timing, get your legs under you.”
Bard looked as if he had his timing for much of the game, before giving way late. He said he welcomed the pressure of knowing his every move was being examined, a likely precursor to what he’ll face later this year.
“It’s hard to keep it out, but at the same time, it’s no different from pitching in a game with a lot riding on it,” said Bard, who’s given up 18 runs through 24 2-3 innings this spring. “It’s more personal, where hopefully at some point I’ll be pitching in a game that there’s a lot more riding on it, where it’s team-oriented. But either way, it’s the same deal. To have a little added pressure is fun. It kind of adds to it, and adds adrenaline when you need it.”
Nick Blackburn had another solid outing for the Twins, giving up five hits and two runs in five innings. The veteran sinkerballer has a 2.12 ERA through 17 innings this spring.
With Scott Baker slow to recover from elbow tendinitis that sidelined him part of the month, Blackburn could be poised to move into Baker’s slot as the starter in the Twins’ home opener against the Angels on April 9.