PORTLAND – To start or relieve? There’s a lot of talk about that question in Boston, where Daniel Bard is shining as a starter, although he could help a beleaguered bullpen.

Sea Dogs pitching coach Bob Kipper remembers when he switched roles while pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

And Kipper understood when Brock Huntzinger approached him recently about moving from the rotation to the bullpen.

Huntzinger, 23, a starter since he was drafted out of high school in 2007, appeared stalled as a starter.

“I really feel like I’m better suited for the bullpen,” he said.

Huntzinger, like former Sea Dogs pitcher Alex Wilson, mixes a fastball and slider, with the change-up a work in progress.

Not surprisingly, the Red Sox have talked about moving both pitchers to the bullpen. And last week, both were taken out of their rotations, Wilson in Pawtucket and Huntzinger with the Sea Dogs.

The two were teammates at the beginning of last season. Wilson texted Huntzinger last week:

“I’m in the bullpen.”

Huntzinger: “yeah, me too.”

Wilson: “How do you feel about it?”

Huntzinger: “Whatever gets me up there.”

“There,” of course, is the major leagues. It is a destination Wilson figures to reach this year, and Huntzinger hopefully in the future.

“There were a number of times last year that Brock dominated an Eastern League lineup,” Kipper said. “Yet, you look at his numbers as a whole, and they don’t look dominating.”

Huntzinger was 5-11 with a 6.17 ERA, but with 123 strikeouts in 124 innings. He would pitch some lights-out innings, but then get hit.

“We’re all in tune to the fact that Brock can be really good for three innings,” Kipper said. “Then he turns the lineup around and that’s when there are some challenging moments in his starts.”

After four starts this year, the same pattern occurred, and Huntzinger was 0-4 with a 9.19 ERA.

“He’s had some struggles out of the gate,” Kipper said. “But we like to think there are a number of good days ahead for Brock Huntzinger.”

KIPPER WAS A STARTER from 1985-87. In the 1987 season for Pittsburgh, he was 5-9 with a 5.94 ERA.

The Pirates moved one lefty (Kipper) to the bullpen, and sent another (John Smiley) from the pen to the rotation. Kipper did not mind the move.

“I did not perform well in 1987,” he said. “To have an opportunity to continue to pitch in the big leagues, in a different role, was very welcoming.”

Kipper pitched five more years in the majors as a reliever, four for Pittsburgh and one year with the Twins. Smiley went on to be a starter for 10 years.

SPEAKING OF RELIEVERS, did you notice former Sea Dogs right-hander Junichi Tazawa has a 0.00 ERA after three relief outings (six innings) for Boston? He has allowed three hits and no walks, striking out four.

TODAY FEATURES a doubleheader of sorts at Hadlock Field. After the 1 p.m. Sea Dogs-Phillies game, Bates and Colby will play at 5 p.m.

JOSH REDDICK, the former Sea Dogs and Red Sox outfielder, comes back to New England on Monday when the Oakland A’s visit Fenway Park. Reddick, part of the Andrew Bailey trade, was batting .256 with three home runs through Friday.

BRANDON MOSS, another former Sea Dogs and Red Sox outfielder, is also in the A’s organization, with Triple-A Sacramento. Moss, 29, recorded his 1,000 minor-league hit Thursday.

“It’s one of those things where you’d rather have the hits in the big leagues, but it’s still something you’re proud of,” Moss told mlb.com.

ANOTHER PERSISTENT player in the minors is New Britain Rock Cats first baseman Chris Colabello, 28. He is in his first year of affiliated baseball, with Minnesota’s Double-A team, after spending the previous seven years with the independent Worcester Tornadoes.

Sounds like quite a grind.

“A lot of people have asked me that,” said Colabello, during the Rock Cats last visit to Hadlock Field. “I never really looked at it as independent baseball or a grind. I just thought of it as baseball. I was fortunate.

“Sometimes there’s a weird plan in store for people. You just try to go along for the ride and keep doing the right thing and, hopefully, things work out.”

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: ClearTheBases