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Why Brandon Morrow suggests Daniel Bard could be a two-year project

03.20.12 at 6:52 pm ET
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Brandon Morrow's conversion from the bullpen to rotation offers an interesting blueprint for Daniel Bard. (AP)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — This offseason, Daniel Bard noted that he felt some kinship with Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow, a pitcher whom the Jays moved from the bullpen to the rotation in 2010. Yet if that is the case, then it is also worth noting that Morrow’s move to the rotation was not without its hitches.

Indeed, one can still describe the right-hander’s conversion as something of a work in progress. That, in turn, is noteworthy given the implications for Bard.

Both Morrow and Bard were first rounders in the 2006 draft, with Morrow going to the Mariners with the No. 5 overall pick and Bard falling to the Red Sox at No. 28 (though Bard once noted that the Mariners had considered him for the pick they used on Morrow). Both are hard-throwing right-handers who have struck out more than a batter an inning in their careers and who broke into the majors as relievers. 

The experiment of using Morrow as a starter began a few years before the Sox entertained the strategy with Bard. In 2008, he started a handful of games for the Mariners (totaling about 95 innings in the majors and minors) and then bumped that up to 10 starts in 2009 (with a total of roughly 125 innings in Triple-A and the majors) before the Blue Jays traded for him and committed to the idea of keeping Morrow in the rotation on a full-time basis in 2010.

That year, Morrow was 10-7 with a 4.46 ERA and 178 strikeouts in 146 1/3 innings, but the Blue Jays shut him down after Sept. 3 in order to manage his innings increase. Then, last year, Morrow increased his workload to 30 starts and 179 1/3 innings, going 11-11 with a 4.72 ERA while striking out 203 batters, in the process leading the AL in strikeouts per nine innings (10.2).

Blue Jays manager John Farrell, formerly the Red Sox pitching coach, described the process with Morrow.

“It’s getting back to the full length of the season and the total number of innings pitched. When you’re counting on a guy to be an innings-eating starter, that might be a couple year process to get to that level,” said Farrell. “Finally, this past year, Brandon in 2010 was shut down in September. Last year, he finally got through a full season with 180-plus innings.

“There’s constant development that goes on. You take a one-inning, all-or-nothing mentality for lack of a better way to describe it and now you have to stretch it out over, hopefully 21 outs. There’s going to be that fine line. Do you pace yourself? What’s that intensity level going to be from pitch to pitch over the course of 110 pitches. I think that was last year’s step for Brandon. One year was the physical side of it. Last year was more the intensity level from start to finish in a given game. It’s been a two-year process for him.”

That is particularly noteworthy given that Bard will be working from a lower starting point with his innings count, as he has never pitched as many as 90 innings in a pro season. While Farrell declined to consider the specifics of Bard making the move into the rotation this year for the Red Sox, he did note that the right-hander had what appeared to be a starter’s arsenal at times while Farrell was still Bard’s pitching coach.

“I don’t know that I can speak to the transition. I can speak to a guy who’s got three very good pitches and a tremendous arm in terms of its power,” said Farrell. “I think anytime you look at, if you had a reliever going into the rotation, you probably have an idea on the total number of innings you’d like to see out of a guy. So I’m sure all those things have been addressed. But, talented guy.

“On a given night, you saw a guy with three very good pitches. When you see that, you say, the starting comes to mind.”

Bard will continue his potential move to the rotation tonight, as he makes his fifth outing of the spring. After scoreless outings against the Orioles and Rays, he got hit hard last Thursday by the Cardinals, allowing seven runs in 2 2/3 innings in a game in which he entered in the sixth inning and had to pitch around a rain delay.

For Bard, the shift to the rotation is not yet a certainty.

“I’m not there yet,” said Sox manager Bobby Valentine, when asked if he was ready to commit to Bard in the rotation while defining the rest of the pitching staff. “I don’t know that anybody’s being necessarily analyzed in a vacuum, not on this whole team. I think it’s what the team needs, how he looks at what he’s doing, how he fits into that rotation with the people that can come into the game when he leaves. But he’s done real well. He’s going to make the team.”

Regardless of whether Bard starts this year in the rotation, however, the experience with Morrow suggests that it might be premature to anticipate a pitcher capable of making 30-plus starts right out of the chute. As promising as Bard has been, there are undoubtedly adjustments that will continue to be made, a notion that has been underscored by a division rival.

Read More: brandon morrow, Daniel Bard, John Farrell,
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