Tuesday April 24, 2012 | 07:20 AM

Daniel Bard saves the game out of the bullpen, and Aaron Cook puts in another fine start in Pawtucket.

Oh, this won't get people talking, oh no. I'm sure everyone will be content with Bard going back to the rotation, leaving behind the bullpen with its stable of consistent pitchers ...

Or not.

Bard entered in the eighth inning Monday night, with one out and the go-ahead run on third base. He sandwiched two infield outs around an intentional walk. Cody Ross homers in the 9th and Boston wins.

What if Bard was not there to enter in the eighth? Who would Bobby Valentine have turned to? Alfred Aceves can't consistently get two-inning saves (and, currently, the words consistently and Aceves do not belong in the same sentence).

By the way, Jon Lester continues to look like a very promising prospect and not an ace. He looked great in innings 1-2-3 and 6-7, but struggled in 4-5 - sounds like how we talk about good minor league pitchers with great stuff, but lacking consistency.

Got a feeling Lester will turn it around ... Do not have the same feeling about the relievers, unless changes are made.

Did I mention that Daniel Bard looked solid in relief on Monday?

The debate will continue. Boston obviously could use Bard in the bullpen, but no one wants to see him get the Joba Chamberlain treatment (starter one day, reliever the next, then starter, then ...)

Fueling the argument that Bard should go to the bullpen is the performance of Aaron Cook in Pawtucket. He allowed eight hits and one run in seven innings Monday night, walking two and striking out two. He induced 16 groundouts. His ERA is now 1.33.

Now, it is only Triple-A (and no one is calling for Justin Germano to be called up, even thought he gave up 0 runs in the first game of Pawtucket's doubleheader, allowing 3 hits, 0 walks and striking out 5. His ERA is 1.57).

Andrew Miller followed Germano with a 1-2-3 inning (two strikeouts). Miller, who has a 6.75 ERA, threw 17 pitches, 10 strikes - quite a contrast from previous wild innings.

One more Triple-A note: Will Middlebrooks hit his 8th home run. He's batting .371, but calls for him to go to Boston are premature. He has had very few Triple-A at-bats. Need a greater sample to evaluate.

Chris Hernandez is becoming the Sea Dogs' No. 1 pitcher, lowering his ERA to 1.72 after going 5 1/3 innings Monday: 6 H, 3 R (1 ER), 1 BB, 1 K ... Caleb Clay got his first save (2 IP, 1 H, 3 K).

Meanwhile, top pitching prospect Anthony Ranaudo is beginning to compete in extended spring training games. Hopes to be in Portland by next month.

And in advanced Class A Salem, Daisuke Matsuzaka began his first rehab outing by giving up a lead-off home run. He gave up another to start the second inning. Dice-K settled down and retired 6 of the last 7 batters he faced: 4 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 3 K.

No word on where Dice-K goes from there. He could return to Salem for its home game on Saturday ... or go to Portland.




About this Blog

Kevin Thomas covers baseball and basketball for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. He wisely moved to Maine in 1994 after working for the St. Petersburg Times. He is married to Nancy and they have nine children.

Follow his thoughts on the Boston Red Sox and Portland Sea Dogs on Clearing the Bases

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