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Originally published Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 7:31 PM

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Bard finds form for Red Sox in final 2 innings

Daniel Bard is making progress in his transition from reliever to starter.

The Associated Press

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FORT MYERS, Fla. —

Daniel Bard is making progress in his transition from reliever to starter.

Bard allowed three runs, three hits and three walks in five innings Tuesday night as the Boston Red Sox lost to the Toronto Blue Jays 9-2.

The hard-throwing right-hander said he felt better in the fourth and fifth innings than he did in the first three. He retired his last eight batters and 12 of his final 14.

"A lot of good stuff to build on, I think," Bard said. "Obviously, I'd like to have that second inning back. I think I learned some good things. I felt like I stayed aggressive despite falling behind."

Bard struck out two and gave up a two-run double in the second to Travis Snider.

Kelly Shoppach, slated to back up Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, hit a two-run homer in the second off Blue Jays starter Aaron Laffey, who gave up two runs and three hits in five innings.

Bard appeared in 70 games last season for the Red Sox. He went 2-9 with a 3.33 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 73 innings, pitching mostly as a setup man.

First-year Boston manager Bobby Valentine wants to see Bard continue to get comfortable as a starter.

"I don't want to sound like I don't have any idea," Valentine said of how Bard would fit in with this year's team. "I like that fact that he was able to make some adjustments."

Bard gave up seven runs on six hits and four walks in his previous outing March 15, which lasted just 2 2-3 innings.

"I felt real comfortable as the game went on," Bard said. "I just think I had a string of a couple of walks that got me in trouble. Even the ball Snider hit, it was a pretty decent fastball. You can't really get too mad about that. If the bases weren't loaded then, it wouldn't have been a big deal.

"I felt the best in the fourth and fifth innings. Physically, fatigue has not been an issue. I think the simplicity of the way I throw has helped me in that aspect."

Bard could fall in line behind opening-day starter Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz, with the No. 5 spot in the rotation still up for grabs. Bard threw 83 pitches, 49 for strikes.

"I don't expect to be handed anything," he said. "After my last outing, I wasn't expecting to be handed a job. He wouldn't be doing his job if that was the case. I think today was a good building block to get through five innings with a reasonable amount of pitches.

"One of the biggest questions people had of me were, how am I going to handle the workload? How am I going to handle throwing 100 pitches in the game? Or more. I'm getting through five innings throwing 80 pitches and feeling really well at the end. That gives me a lot of confidence. My arm can handle this. My body can handle this. I think I can do really well at the end of a game," he said.

Boston catcher Kelly Shoppach, slated to back up Jarrod Saltalamacchia during the regular season, slugged a two-run homer in the second inning off Blue Jays left-handed starter Aaron Laffey.

Eric Thames had two hits, two walks and scored twice for Toronto. Edwin Encarnacion was 2 for 4 with a double.

Like Bard, Laffey is vying for a back-end rotation spot after spending most of his career as a reliever. He went a combined 3-2 with a 3.88 ERA in 47 relief appearances last season with the Mariners and Yankees. He has started 49 big league games.

"Laffey is a guy who threw strikes," Toronto manager John Farrell said. "He's got good, solid stuff. He left that ball up over the plate for Shoppach, but this is a guy who has always believed he's had the ability to be a starter in the big leagues. This is the first time I'd say in two-plus years he's gone five innings. He's a good athlete on the mound. He controlled the running game. He's a guy with not very overpowering stuff, but he can be very effective."

NOTES: New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who attended South Florida's pro day on Tuesday, took in six innings of action at the Red Sox game as Valentine's guest. ... Boston LHP Andrew Miller did not make it through his slated seventh inning of work, leaving with a mild left hamstring strain, his latest setback. Miller did not get past the first batter he faced. "It seems to be mild in nature, but we're going to wait it out," Valentine said.

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