It has been 2,639 days since Daniel Bard last took to the mound in a major league game that counted.
In that April 27 game in 2013, the then-Red Sox flamethrower faced two batters, walked both, and allowed one run without recording an out. Since then, it’s been an uphill battle through a steep incline.
Following his demotion after that outing against the Astros, Bard made 31 minor league appearances. In those outings, the native of Houston yielded an astounding 42 earned runs, walked 69 batters, hit 16, fired 23 wild pitches, and struck out just 14 in 19.1 innings. It doesn’t take advanced analytics to tell you that he struggled, but it does a good job painting the entire picture.
That 19.55 earned run average (ERA) translated to a 15.06 FIP. He posted a walk rate of 47.3 percent and averaged just one strikeout every five walks. During this time, the now-35-year-old right-hander saw himself get demoted as far down as Rookie ball for the Mets in 2017, where he made his final professional baseball appearance before retiring for two years (0.2 innings, five walks, two hit batsmen, three wild pitches, and four earned runs).
That was not quite the same pitcher who tormented opposing lineups as a bullpen ace from 2009 to 2011, posting a 2.88 ERA with a 3.22 FIP, a 2.91 SIERA, and a K-BB rate of 17.2 percent (for reference, his K-BB rate from those final 31 minor league appearances was -37.7 percent).
So what happened?
“The yips is probably the easiest to understand for people,” Bard said in an interview with MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi. “I couldn’t throw a baseball for half of ’12, ’13, ’14, ’15, ’16, ’17 … for six-and-a-half years without thinking about where every part of my body was throughout that throw.”
Bard also talked about how he was diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS), a series of disorders that occur when blood vessels between your collarbone and first rib compress. This is an injury that the Red Sox saw deteriorate the career of Tyler Thornburg over the past few years, and one that the Orlando Magic are finally starting to see heal in former No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz.
When someone has Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, they can experience pain in their shoulders and/or neck, as well as numbness in their fingers (Mayo Clinic).
Bard received surgery to repair his nerves in 2014, but couldn’t get over the mental hurdle of stepping on the mound against professional hitters. As a result, he retired in 2017 at the age of 32, where he then took on an unofficial job with the Arizona Diamondbacks as a consultant to young players.
Two years and some change later, Bard got the itch to return to action. However, it was in a rather unorthodox manner.
“I was playing catch with guys as a way to connect with them and get to know them,” Bard said in the same interview with Morosi. “I’d get comments from players like, ‘Dude, you’ve still got it.”
“I’d just laugh it off, but I did know it felt different.”
Throwing a baseball became a natural movement for Bard again, something he hadn’t felt in several years. He ended up throwing into a net all offseason. Eventually, his fastball trickled back into the mid-90s, and he regained command of his breaking pitches.
Soon, the man who once tried to resort to a sidearm or sometimes submarine-style of pitching was finally back to where he was where it all began: overpowering and over-the-top. He would go on to work out for big-league clubs and sign a minor league deal with the Colorado Rockies.
Bard made three Spring Training appearances, allowing seven earned runs in 2.1 innings, walking three, and striking out three. Not pretty, but it was still enough to land the 35-year-old a spot on the team’s roster for the 2020 season before eventually securing a spot on their 30-man Opening Day roster.
Daniel Bard hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2013.
Today he was informed he made the Rockies Opening Day roster.
Never give up on your dreams, folks. 🙌
— MLB (@MLB) July 17, 2020
Bard will be joining a team that features Nolan Arenado, one of the game’s most prolific third basemen. Arenado, now 29, made his major league debut on April 28, 2013, a day after Daniel Bard’s most recent appearance.
Daniel Bard’s last MLB game: 4/27/13
Nolan Arenado’s first MLB game: 4/28/13
Now they are teammates.
— MLB Vault (@MLBVault) July 17, 2020
Bard was once one of the game’s most overpowering relievers, ranking tied for 11th in reliever ERA in 2010, but a shift to the starting rotation was the beginning of the end. However, perhaps by fate, the former Red Sox right-hander was given a bode of confidence––enough to get him back onto the mound. He’s back on a big-league roster, and it’s near impossible to root against him.
This is one of baseball’s best comeback stories. Now, it’s up to him to make something of his second chance.