Worth the Wait: Daniel Bard Made A Statement in His Regular-Season Rockies Debut

Tracy Ringolsby

Rockies reliever Daniel Bard walked off the mound at Globe Life Field on Saturday afternoon, reached the top step of the visitors dugout, glanced at manager Bud Black and told the skipper, "That was fun."

And by the end of the Rockies 3-2 victory against the Rangers in the second game of the truncated season, Bard not only had worked 1 2/3 innings but also had been credited with the win.

Big deal?

Real big.

Daniel Bard is a rare baseball survivor from an extended bout with the yips.

Consider that his moment in Texas was the first time he had stepped foot on a big-league mound during the regular season since April 27. 2013. That's 2,646 days. That is the sixth longest big-league drought for any player -- second longest for a pitcher -- since the start of the 2010 season.

And that other pitcher? Former Rockies right-hander Chin-Hui Tsao, who went 2,918 days between big-league appearances for the Dodgers. And Bard's moment came one day after right-hander Rafael Dolis was on the mound for the Cubs, making his first big-league appearance in 2,568 days.

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And it's not like Bard was replacing Rockies starting pitcher Jon Gray in a game that got out of hand. When Bard got the call with two outs in the fifth inning, the Rockies held a 3-1 lead. Bard came in to face the No. 2 hitter in the lineup -- Elvis Andrus.

He got Andrus to pop up, and then worked a scoreless sixth, giving up two singles, but still throwing strikes -- only five of his 25 pitches missed the strike zone. He even wound up being credited with the victory -- something he had not enjoyed at any level since May 29, 2012 with the Red Sox.

That was a drought of eight years, 58 days, the fourth longest for a pitcher since World War II, and just eight days fewer than Jim Bouton when he showed up on the mound for Atlanta on Sept. 14, 1978.

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Bard's return came after spending the better part of seven years, trying to find a way back to the big leagues, and then the last two seasons as a mental skills coach in the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system.

"What we saw starting in spring training and continuing to Denver was momentum building for Daniel," said Rockies manager Bud Black. "We began to feel, `He's going to be part of it, the stuff is there.' You saw a 95 to 99 miles per hour fastball with life. You saw a couple different breaking balls and a good change. ... Good teams have depth in the bullpen, and Daniel is going to be a big part of that, if he continues to look how we've seen him since February."

It is a journey that really showed no hope for a return considering after two appearances for the Red Sox to open the 2013 season, he was shuffled off to the minor leagues and forgotten. 

In the ensuing seven stops in the minor leagues from 2013 to 2017, including a brief trip to Puerto Rico for three games in winter ball, Bard managed to pitch just 29 2/3 innings in 44 appearances. He issued 84 walks and was charged with 57 runs, 54 of which were earned. 

How bad was it? Well, he made four appearances at Low-A Hickory, an affiliate of the Rangers, of all teams, in 2014, and while retiring two hitters, he did not allow a hit, but was charged with 13 runs, walking nine batters and hitting seven batters with a pitch.

He did not appear in another game until 2016.

And he did not appear in a big league game until Saturday.

"You've got a guy in his mid-30s, after a seven year break," said Black. "Physically he is in a  good spot. His arm is great. And what a great story. Now, he'll be the first to tell you, he wants to continue this. He wants to be a contributor. He wants to be productive for our pitching staff."

And he took that first step. He hit 99 miles per hour several times with his fastball, and when that was mentioned in the post-game media session, he had a smile of satisfaction flash on his face.

"I could run it up to 100," he said of his days good days in Boston. "We'll get there eventually. 

He wants to keep that focus that he took to the mound on Saturday. He wants to show in his mid-30s that he has what it takes to be a big-league pitcher. He was, after all, one of the more dominating relievers in the game when he broke in with the Red Sox

His first three years in Boston (2009-11) he was a set-up man, working late innings -- with success. In 192 appearances, covering 197 innings, he had a composite 2.88 ERA. The Red Sox then decided to put him into a starting role, and the decline began. He went 5-6 in 2012 with a 6.22 ERA in 17 games, 10 starts, and 59 1/3 innings.

Two ugly efforts the following April, and Bard was shipped out of Boston.

Now, however, he has a fresh start, and he is enjoying his time.

His arm is fresh, considering how little he has pitched in the last seven years.

His mind is focused.

"With age you see things differently," he said. "Having kids of your own, seeing them grow up and helping them grow up, you start to do things differently. ... I mean, the adrenaline is the same, the juices are flowing out there (on the mound)."

The results -- at least on Saturday -- showed it.

"Going back to when I was struggling, you get that feeling with the butterflies, the heart racing, the adrenaline going, and it would contribute to the bad things. It would raise the anxiety and basically, take away my ability to focus. When you get older, when your perspective is different, you feel those things and you go, `All right.'

" It's the same physical effect. The heart heats up, the adrenaline's pumping but your perspective. ... It's either really positive where it helps you or really negative where it crushes you. That wasn't something I learned overnight. It has taken practice. It has taken a lot of intentional work on my part."

And it paid off with the most satisfying moment of his career on Saturday afternoon.

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