There was no uptick in velocity or addition of a trick pitch, only a clean bill of health for reliever Luke Bard, who struck out an average of 13.6 batters per nine innings in 41 minor league games last season, five whiffs more than he averaged per nine innings in any of his previous three seasons.
The quantum leap suggests that Bard, who struck out 99 and walked 24 in 65 1/3 innings for double-A Chattanooga and triple-A Rochester in 2017, is on the rise. It’s also the reason the Angels selected the right-hander from the Minnesota Twins in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft in December.
Bard’s selection cost the Angels $100,000. If he doesn’t spend the entire season on the 25-man roster, he must be offered back to the Twins for $50,000. The fact that the Angels could lose a potentially valuable bullpen arm if they don’t retain Bard improves his chances of making the club.
Bard’s repertoire — a fastball that sits between 93-96 mph with sinking action and that tails in on right-handed hitters, a sharp-breaking slider that he throws with varying speeds and shapes and an improving changeup — and his ability to throw multiple innings have enhanced his chances this spring.
“His stuff is good, he spins the ball well, and hopefully he’s going to be a multi-inning guy,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “With the makeup of our club, multi-inning [relievers] are really important. There are some teams where there isn’t as much of a need for that four-out look. We’re gonna need it.”
The 6-foot-3, 202-pound Bard, younger brother of former big league pitcher Daniel Bard, pitched 65 innings in 44 games in 2016 and 52 1/3 innings in 28 games in 2015.
“They were asking me the other day if I can go two innings,” Bard said. “I said, ‘Yeah, why not? Why wouldn’t I be able to?’ I’ve gone two or three innings plenty of times, so that’s something I’m comfortable with.”
Bard, 27, sat out the 2014 season recovering from shoulder blade surgery and was hampered for much of 2016 by a hip issue that required surgery after the season. Fully healed, Bard turned a corner in 2017.
“Last year, my whole body just felt great,” he said. “That probably had a lot to do with [the improved strikeout rate]. I felt good all year. Things were just working and clicking. I don’t know, I guess I’m figuring myself out as I get older.”
Bard retired the side in order, striking out Ian Desmond looking with a nice slider, in the fifth inning of Thursday’s 10-8 exhibition win over the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields. He gave up a solo homer to David Dahl and a single to Mike Tauchman in the sixth but finished the inning with no further damage.
Bard’s 6.75 ERA in eight innings over seven appearances this spring is skewed by a one-out, five-run, four-hit outing against the Cleveland Indians on Feb. 28. He has given up one run and three hits, struck out six and walked one in 7 2/3 innings of his other six games, including two shutout innings against the San Francisco Giants last Saturday.
Bard, who is competing with Felix Pena, Noe Ramirez and left-hander Ian Krol for the last spot in the bullpen, said he didn’t fully understand how the Rule 5 draft works before the Angels selected him.