Peter Gammons: Daniel Bard gets fresh start after surgery

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What happened to Daniel Bard wasn’t about moving into the starting rotation in 2012. The whirlpool in which he nearly drowned for two years began in September, 2011, when after going June and July without allowing a run and moving to the forefront of relievers he made 11 appearances trying to hold off the Rays in the pennant race, allowed 14 runs with a 10.62 earned run average…

That was, of course, chicken and beer month, which while seemingly unrelated to Bard might not have been, because it was related to Josh Beckett.

Which will be fascinating to watch this season. Beckett had Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery last summer, and has told friends that he feels really good and could be headed to a major comeback. Bard had the same surgery four weeks ago, removing part of a rib above his collar bone.

Friday, Bard signed with the Texas Rangers, a team that has experience with TOS (including Jarrod Saltalamacchia) and are outside Dallas, where Dr. Gregory Pearl performed the Bard operation. Daniel will begin throwing in a couple of weeks, go to spring training and believes he may have finally found the answer to what happened after July, 2011.

If you do not remember, this is Daniel Bard from the time he reached the major leagues in 2009 through Aug. 31, 2011. And Bard since:

Year               Games       IP       ERA     K-BB Ratio

2009-8/011     181         186      2.42           3.01

9/011-on           30         71.1     6.94             .93

He threw 27 walks, 11 wild pitches and struck out 9 in the minors before the Red Sox moved him to the Cubs last summer. He got one out in four appearances in Puerto Rico. He was confused, frustrated, embarrassed…”You’ll never know,” he said Friday. “It was worse than a nightmare.”

When he was back in the minors trying to right what was wrong last spring, one day he got a text from Mike Reinold, the shoulder expert who had overseen much of the Red Sox physical program. He suggested that there had been evidence that there may have been some deterioration in 2011 that could be related to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. In other conversations, Reinold said that had been evidence of deterioration that affected the left shoulders and hence deliveries of Bard, Beckett and Jon Papelbon, but it was slight.

The correspondence was unusual, because Reinold had been replaced by the Red Sox and has been working with Eric Cressey, among others, but he never stopped caring about players with whom he had built a relationship.

In Arizona last spring, Beckett confided that before he was traded to the Dodgers on Aug. 25, 2012, he had almost no feel in his pitching hand. Bard did not have feel problems to that extent, but does remember some issues with his shoulder and the way he gripped the ball. He went to the minors after the Red Sox designated for assignment with the Cubs and worked on the side. He then went to Puerto Rico. In the meanwhile, his agent, a former number one pick of the Cardinals as a pitcher named Mike Milchin, had been in contact with Reinold.

So when Bard came home from Puerto Rico, very discouraged, Milchin had him fly to Boston to meet with Reinold. He then went to see TOS specialists, including Dr. Pearl. They thought he should have the surgery. “Dr. Pearl thinks more pitchers get affected by this than was previously realized,” says Bard. “He said there are probably more vascular problems that had been addressed in the past. There’s so much wear, so much that goes into pitching. I did remember this—that by late August in 2011, I felt tired, and didn’t know why. There was no numbness, but my velocity was down, which I couldn’t understand. I was coming off a stretch in which I thought I pitched the best I’d ever pitched.”

When Boston GM Ben Cherington was informed about Bard’s surgery three weeks ago, he emailed, “I will never stop rooting for his success.” That is who Daniel Bard happens to be, intelligent, remarkably civil, good. Then he was hitting batters and throwing balls up on screens.

For those of us who know Rick Ankiel, there is a sickening feeling every time he is shown airmailing pitches, comforted by the courage to make it all the way back as an outfielder after years of The Thing and surgeries. Teammates love Beckett, and will root for him this spring.

Daniel Bard is still but 28, and even after all those Camusian moments in the inescapable whirlpool, he returned home from Puerto Rico and opened his ears and mind to other voices. Maybe it was vascular, maybe it was TOS, maybe, just maybe, he will make it back with the Texas Rangers and once again be the guy throwing 98 and 100 miles an hour.

A mutual friend this winter said, “one thing is constant in Daniel—he always treats people well.”

Maybe now he has been treated right, at the perfect time, and baseball will get back a good man who happened to be a great talent.

  • dwightevansfan

    Great article on a great person. Here’s hoping Daniel Bard makes it back!