Bard hopes to revive career with Pirates

Right-hander hasn't pitched professionally since 2014

January 11th, 2016

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Over the past few years, the Pirates have become well regarded throughout baseball for their ability to help turn pitchers' careers around. During that time, Daniel Bard sank from a lights-out setup man to a pitcher who could barely find the strike zone.

It seems fitting, then, that the two sides found each other this offseason. Bard agreed last week to a Minor League deal as he attempts to get his career back on track. The 30-year-old right-hander has thrown only one inning in the Majors since 2012, held back by surgery following thoracic outlet syndrome and plagued by control problems ever since.

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"I think it's just a matter of time," Bard said Monday, receiving black-and-gold workout clothes in the Pirate City clubhouse as he spoke. "I haven't been ready to give it up. I've felt myself continue to get better -- not always as fast as I'd like, but I've seen progress the last year. Just glad to have an opportunity here."

At his best, Bard was a dominant reliever with the Red Sox. From 2009-11, he posted a 2.88 ERA and struck out 9.7 batters per nine innings.

But Bard is far removed from those days. His struggles began when the Red Sox tried to turn him into a starter in 2012, a decision that led him back to the Minors for most of the season. His last professional outing came with the Rangers' Class A Hickory affiliate in 2014, when he hit seven batters, walked nine and was charged with 13 runs while recording only two outs over four appearances.

Bard signed a Minor League deal with the Cubs last year but didn't pitch in a game. Asked to summarize the past several years of his career, Bard answered with one word: "Challenging."

Bard had been working out near his home in Madison, Miss., when a friend in the Pirates' front office -- T.J. Large, also a former Red Sox prospect -- reached out to him and asked if he was looking for a job.

"It was a pretty easy decision," Bard said.

That was true, in part, because Bard has seen former Red Sox teammates Joel Hanrahan and Mark Melancon thrive in Pittsburgh's bullpen. He's also seen a number of pitchers regain their form, if not improve upon their career-best performances, under the tutelage of pitching coach Ray Searage and the Pirates staff.

Fortunately for Bard, the Pirates seem to specialize in fixing control problems. They helped several high-profile starters find the zone, from Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano to A.J. Burnett and J.A. Happ, and their work extends to the bullpen, as well.

Last season, the Pirates took a shot on flame-throwing right-hander Arquimedes Caminero, who had walked 4.5 batters per nine innings in his Minor League career, and they turned him into a solid middle reliever in his first full season in the Majors.

The Pirates have taken calculated risks this offseason on other pitchers with previous control problems -- Juan Nicasio, Neftali Feliz and Trey Haley, to name a few -- and expressed a belief that they can get them back on track.

Bard might present the toughest challenge yet for Searage and the Pirates staff. But the Pirates evidently believe enough in him to bring him into their organization, and he hasn't given up on the game yet.

"Obviously, they've done a good job with guys in similar shoes to me, rebounding their careers a little bit," Bard said. "You've just seen it time and time again: Guys come here, they seem to help out the Pirates a lot, and the Pirates seem to help them out a lot."