Daniel Bard ready for a fresh start with Cubs

Daniel Bard ready for a fresh start with Cubs
September 6, 2013, 5:15 pm
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Tony Andracki

Daniel Bard stood at his locker Friday afternoon, his pants stained with blood and his belongings pouring out of a Boston Red Sox bag.

It's been a whirlwind week for Bard, who said he's been in four states over the last five days. The Cubs claimed the 28-year-old reliever off waivers after the Red Sox designated him for assignment.

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He had been on the minor-league disabled list with an abdominal strain but threw a bullpen session Friday morning at Wrigley Field as a minor cut on the back of his right thumb opened, causing a steady flow of blood, though Bard assured it was nothing to worry about.

"It's been a crazy year and an even crazier week for me," Bard said. "When you're designated, a lot of things go through your mind. Anyone who's been through it knows it's a weird feeling for a player. You're kind of in baseball limbo for a while.

"I didn't know what was going to happen. It was a weird time to get designated, right when the rosters expand (to 40 players on Sept. 1) and the fact I was on the minor-league DL."

With the minor league regular season over, Bard was in the process of preparing for his offseason when the Red Sox removed him from the 40-man roster.

But the Cubs' front office is familiar with Bard, a Theo Epstein first-round pick in 2006, and took a chance, designating outfielder Cole Gillespie to create room on the roster for Bard.

"Obviously, God's plan is a little better than mine," Bard said. "I was happy to hear from Theo shortly after (the designation). We had a good chat and talked about the plan moving forward."

Bard hasn't pitched in the majors since April and made just 16 appearances in the minor leagues after losing roughly three months of the season to the abdominal strain.

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He was a major factor in the Red Sox bullpen from 2009-11, appearing in 192 games with a 2.88 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings. He also led the American League with 32 holds in 2010 and tied for the league lead with 34 holds the following year.

But Bard hit a wall last season when he petitioned the Red Sox to give him a chance to join the starting rotation. The results were disastrous — 36 walks compared to just 34 strikeouts and a 5.30 ERA in 10 starts. His control only worsened after a stint in the minors and a move back to the bullpen.

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"I don't think (the move to starting) was necessarily a bad move in and of itself," Bard said. "We — the coaches over there and myself included — just tried to change too many things to turn me from a reliever to a starter, whereas I probably could have just taken the pitcher I was out of the bullpen for four years and plopped that into a starting role and been fine.

"We tried to overhaul in spring training with no more changeups, cutting the ball, sinking the ball, changing speeds with the fastball, things like that I hadn't done in the past. It worked a few times — I had a handful of good starts last year — but overall, I think it just kind of got me out of my game.

"It's been a little bit of a journey here the last year, trying to get it back. I'm healthy now. To have a fresh environment to start working in is really exciting."

The Cubs haven't carved out a role for Bard just yet, as the focus right now is on health and getting him back on the field.

"(A role is not) a necessity," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "The timetable will be up to him. We'll evaluate to see where he is, and then we'll go from there.

"There's not a timetable for when he's going to get on the mound or if he even does come to the mound."

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If Bard is able to return to the field this season, he figures to slot in a bullpen that has been stabilized by Kevin Gregg's veteran presence at the back end.

Gregg saved his 30th game during Friday's win over the Brewers, and his emergence as closer has allowed Sveum to use relievers in other roles. The Cubs' bullpen has come together over the past few months, with Pedro Strop — acquired in the early July trade with Baltimore — looking like a nice late-inning piece, while Blake Parker and James Russell have formed a nice tandem ahead of Strop and Gregg.

Sveum indicated Friday the Cubs' roster is pretty much set, with no new arrivals expected to join the club, apart from Bard and veteran Scott Baker, who will make his first start Sunday.

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But the Cubs are still holding auditions for 2014 and beyond, allowing guys like Bard, 25-year-old left-hander Zach Rosscup (acquired from Tampa Bay along with Matt Garza in 2010) and 25-year-old righty Justin Grimm (acquired from Texas in this season's Garza deal) the opportunity to show they belong in the plans for next season.