CINCINNATI – Daniel Bard still believes he can get back to the elite level that made him such a weapon for the Boston Red Sox, one of the most dominant setup guys in the game.
“Without a doubt,” Bard said Monday at Great American Ball Park. “I’ve had a couple weird things happen in my career the last year-and-a-half or so. I have no doubt in my mind I’m going to get back to where I was – as long as I’m healthy. I’m pretty close to being full strength now. It’s just a matter of getting the reps and getting that feel back. But all the pieces are there.”
The Cubs have had a couple weird things happen in the last 100 years or so. But Bard should fit right in now that the organization is taking chances on so many buy-low players with upside.
New guys walking into this clubhouse get asked about the future here and if they would like to be a part of it. (What else are they supposed to say?) You get numb listening to it after awhile, because the front office has already burned through 55 players this season, breaking the franchise record set last year with 53.
But Bard has done it before in the American League East for playoff-caliber teams, putting up a 2.88 ERA with 213 strikeouts in 197 innings between 2009 and 2011. Cubs executives Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod knew him as a first-round pick in the 2006 draft out of the University of North Carolina.
“The whole front office is familiar with me, which is a good comfort,” Bard said. “There’s been a lot of turnover, I know that. Beyond that, I know they’re just trying to build a good core of young guys and from what I’ve seen – the (couple) games I’ve watched – there’s some really good young talent. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
The Cubs hope something will click for Bard while working with pitching coach Chris Bosio. But this won’t be a quick or easy fix for the 28-year-old right-hander claimed off waivers last week.
Bard didn’t want to replace closer Jonathan Papelbon and lobbied for a shot at the Red Sox rotation during the sinking-ship season captained by Bobby Valentine in 2012. He posted a 6.22 ERA last year and dealt with a nagging abdominal strain this season.
Nothing’s finalized, but Bard said he’s willing to play winter ball after throwing only 15.1 innings in the minors (with 14 hits, 27 walks and a 6.46 ERA). The Cubs are once again trying to copy the Red Sox model.
“The pieces are in place,” Bard said. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but they’ve freed up enough money to where if they see some pieces missing, they’ll go out this offseason and put it together.
“We’ll see. I think they’ve put themselves in a position where they can do something like that. That’s all I’ve seen. I’m just here to play and have some fun.”