Let’s outline what occurred and what it means:
1. Bard described this as not simply performance anxiety
It’s an important distinction, since Bard did not pitch in the Majors from 2014-19, before an inspiring comeback with the Rockies. That led to a two-year, $19 million contract extension signed last year. Also, questions were raised when Bard struggled for Team USA against Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic – an outing in which Bard hit Astros star Jose Altuve with a pitch and fractured the second baseman’s right thumb.
Bard explained the anxiety as nuanced.
“Mental health stuff – it’s affected me a little bit on the field, a little bit off the field,” Bard said. “It's not all the time. Most of the time, I'm great and feel pretty normal. It's just something that came on a few weeks ago, mostly, that I noticed was starting to have an effect on my ability to do my job.
“It's a hard thing to admit, but I've been through stuff before and I got enough going on outside of this game to realize what's important. And these games are super important. But there's also other things that are also really important.”
2. Bard took a truthful route
“If we were to ask the 52 active players in today's game, and go across the other 14 games, there’s a lot of guys [with anxiety],” Bard said. “I applaud the players who come forward, and I applaud baseball for accepting.”
Bard, 37, had difficulty reaching his 97-plus mph velocity. His pitching motion and his location were unsure. But, especially after talking to head athletic trainer Keith Dugger, Bard felt shrouding the issue would have created more problems.
“People aren’t stupid,” Bard said. “If I was out there running around with a hamstring pull, people figure things out. Then you got people whispering about it. What's really wrong? I’d rather get out in front of it. In an odd way, it coming out was hard, but once it’s out, it’s OK. It’s healthy. It’s not a big secret.”
3. Bard will remain with the team and continue preparation
All involved say being around the squad is best for Bard and the team. When he is ready, Rockies manager Bud Black said, Bard will need an injury rehab assignment.
4. Bird is back
Bird, 27, didn’t participate during the early part of camp because of a left oblique injury, and the club optioned him to Triple-A Albuquerque before camp ended. However, Bird, who debuted last season and earned important innings late in the year, kept pitching in Major League spring games and his health and “stuff” returned.
Bird, who called Bard a mentor, kept trusting he would be ready even after being optioned.
“Obviously, you want to be back sooner than later, but my main thing was to control what I could control,” Bird said. “I feel good, ready to go, excited.”
5. Who’s the closer?
Through the offseason and during Spring Training, the Rockies added experience to the bullpen – righty Pierce Johnson (a key Padres performer in the 2022 postseason) and lefties Brad Hand (who went to the World Series last year with the Phillies) and Brent Suter (claimed from the Brewers). Also, righty Dinelson Lamet (a 2022 pickup and former Padres starter) and high-velocity righty Justin Lawrence showed dramatic spring progress.
Black did not name a closer.
Especially intriguing among the options is Lawrence, 28, who struck out three in two intense innings with Panama in the WBC and displayed a nasty slider in Spring Training. He’s capable of triple digits on the fastball but saw progress late last season when he dialed down the velocity to stay in the strike zone.
“I was getting tired of seeing, ‘Oh, he’s got really good stuff,’ ‘Oh, he’s got a chance to be great,’” said Lawrence, who debuted in 2021 but bounced between the Rockies and Triple-A until late last season. “I’ve been hearing that for almost four or five years now. It’s time to go out there and do it.”