Colorado Rockies closer, Daniel Bard (52) ...

Daniel Bard’s super sinker makes Rockies’ closer all-star worthy

Daniel Bard is smart, articulate and introspective. But thinking too much can often get a closer into trouble.

So when Bard sat down with Rockies manager Bud Black and bullpen coach Darryl Scott at the end of the 2021 season, they had a direct message for the veteran right-hander.

“Simplify things,” said Scott, who’s now the head pitching coach. “That was more or less the gist of it. Just keep it simple, because your fastball is really hard to hit. Establish it. Use it.

“Daniel was trying an approach of, ‘I want to set him up with this pitch and then get him with this pitch.’ We told him, ‘You don’t have to do that. Just go get ’em. Make somebody beat you.’ ”

Bard had done that this season. At age 37, he’s pitched like an all-star. He entered the weekend with a 2.08 ERA, a 1.010 WHIP and 19 saves in 21 chances.  His 90.5 save percentage was tied for second-best in the majors.

“He’s really settled into what makes him successful,” Black said. “It took him a while to get there.”

Bard, struck by a crippling case of the yips, didn’t pitch in the majors for seven years before hooking up with the Rockies after a tryout prior to the 2020 spring training. He posted a 3.65 ERA over 24 2/3 innings in the pandemic-shortened season and was named the National League comeback player of the year.

But last season Bard posted a 5.21 ERA with eight blown saves, tied for the most in the majors. He lost his closer’s job in late August.

“I found a good sinker,” a grinning Bard said when asked to explain the secret to his success this season. “Seriously, it’s not anything new, just a slight tweak. Everybody in this league is searching for a pitch; a pitch you can throw pretty much down the middle and it’s still hard to hit.”

Bard throws his sinking fastball 53% of the time, with an average velocity of 98.3 mph, according to FanGraphs. He uses it to set up a sneaky slider that he throws at various speeds to confound hitters.

“It’s the same grip, but one comes out more like a cutter, one comes out more like a ‘slurvey’ curveball,” Bard said. “And I can go almost anywhere in between that. I can throw it 91-93 or 84-85 in the same at-bat and it acts like two different pitches. The hitter sees one early in the count and he sees the other one a couple of pitches later, and it’s like, ‘I thought I already saw the slider but that’s a different pitch.’ ”

But it’s the sinker that’s made Bard so good this season.

“We told Daniel: ‘Understand that you don’t have to create the movement,’ ” Scott said. “There were times last year when I felt like he tried to manipulate the movement.  No. Just let it go. It’s an elite pitch.”

Entering the weekend, the right-hander’s .148 opponents’ average was tied for fifth-lowest among big-league relievers. His opponents’ .197 batting average against was a career-best. Since May 18, across 20 outings, he had allowed just two earned runs for a 0.84 ERA.

But Bard doesn’t just grip it and rip it. He has a plan of attack. He’s come to realize that although his fastball has some horizontal movement that’s difficult to command, he doesn’t have to be too fine because there is plenty of velocity and heavy sink on the pitch.

“Say I’m picking a side of the plate,” he explained. “On the first pitch to a righty I want to go away, but I’m OK if it leaks to the middle or even all the way to the inside because at 98 or 99, it’s moving in on the hands and that’s still tough.

“If it’s down and away, it’s impossible to hit, or maybe they can hit a groundball to second. If I miss the pitch by a foot, it’s probably still a weakly hit groundball.”

Colorado Rockies closer, Daniel Bard (52) ...

Andy Cross, The Denver Post

Colorado Rockies closer, Daniel Bard (52) sends a ball to a fan under the net above the dugout after defeating the Cincinnati Reds 4-3 at Coors Field April 30, 2022.

Plus, hitters must be wary of Bard’s slider.

“If they feel like they have to go get the fastball, the slider plays even better,” Scott said. “If they feel like they can wait for the slider, hitters have a chance. But trying to hit a 98 mph sinker? Who can do that?”

Bard’s journey back to the majors, of course, has been about much more than harnessing his fastball. His wife, Adair, calls him “the most laid-back perfectionist I’ve ever met,” and sees her husband’s quiet inner drive as essential to what he’s accomplished.

All of the turmoil Bard has experienced is paying off when he takes the ball in the ninth inning.

“After all of his trials and tribulations, he understands himself,” Scott said. “It’s amazing. When I go to the mound in the middle of a game — I don’t have to do it very often — I can hold a conversation with him. There aren’t too many guys that have that kind of control, mentally, in-game.

“When you go out there, you’re looking to see what the heart rate is on guys, but Daniel’s never fluctuates.”

Bard remains philosophical about his odyssey.

“Everybody’s journey brings them to where they are and who they are,” he said. “I have a certain perspective. And age has something to do with it, too. I have been in these situations before and a lot of it has to do with being comfortable, even when it’s not an easy situation or the odds are stacked against you.”

Bard paused for a moment and then added: “I mean, it’s like, I might blow this game right here, but I’ll survive. I’ll still be here tomorrow.”

Then, just before he headed out for his bullpen workout, Bard paused, flashed a smile, and said: “Now, if I blow five in a row, it’s a little bit different story.”


All-Star Stuff
Only two Rockies relievers have ever been selected to the All-Star Game, though closer Daniel Bard’s numbers have been all-star-worthy this season. Here’s a look at those pitchers’ performances at the break:

LHP Brian Fuentes
2005: 2.41 ERA, 12 saves
2006: 3.89 ERA, 16 saves
2007: 4.06 ERA, 20 saves

RHP Greg Holland
2017: 1.62 ERA, 28 saves

RHP Daniel Bard
2022: 2.08 ERA, 19 saves

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