The announcement that reliever Luke Bard would join the Angels’ 40-man roster was not much of a surprise to manager Brad Ausmus. “He was?” he asked when a reporter mentioned the news.
Of course he was.
“I think it was pretty much unanimous that he should be added,” Ausmus said.
With the outstanding spin rate of his pitches as well as his polite demeanor in the clubhouse, Bard caught the coaching staff’s attention during spring training. In five spring outings, he allowed two hits and one run, with nine strikeouts and no walks. His spring ERA is 1.59; his WHIP, 0.35.
Daniel Bard, a former Red Sox reliever, has followed along on TV. When he heard that his younger brother had received an Angels roster spot, he was thrilled.
“In my opinion, he’s finally getting treated in the way he deserves,” Daniel said. “It’s just good to see … the hard work he’s put in finally getting recognized.”
The two likely will celebrate by getting dinner together, Daniel said. A player mentor and mental skills coach for the Diamondbacks, Daniel has met Luke for dinner once or twice a week since spring training started.
Luke grew up the youngest of three brothers. They would play baseball, basketball, football and other sports together, but Daniel was five years older. The competition wasn’t tight.
Over the course of one July in Fort Myers, Fla., in 2013, the dynamic of their relationship shifted. Daniel, the Red Sox first-round draft pick in 2006, was recovering from a torn abdominal muscle. Luke was drafted in the first round by the Twins the year before and was rehabilitating from shoulder surgery.
For the first time since Daniel left for college at North Carolina, the brothers were roommates.
They stayed at a townhouse in Fort Myers and spent their mornings doing rehab with their respective teams. In their free afternoons, they sought salt water, fishing together on beaches and off docks.
“We were close before that,” Daniel said, “but we got to know each other as peers and friends.”
Several months later, Daniel was designated for assignment by the Red Sox. He announced his retirement in January 2018, his career derailed by injuries.
Luke battled injuries in the Twins’ minor league system but posted a 2.76 ERA in double A and triple A in 2017, drawing the Angels’ attention. The team selected him in the Rule 5 draft, giving him a chance to make the major league roster during spring training a year ago.
He gave up five runs in one-third of an inning that February, then posted a 5.40 ERA in March. Bard’s velocity dipped, and he didn’t know why. And he was a new face in the clubhouse, facing pressure and unfamiliarity.
“I loved it over here,” Bard said. “But at the same time, you’re essentially trying out. Every day is real important.”
Bard made his major league debut for the Angels and posted a 5.70 ERA in 11 2/3 innings before being sent back to the Twins — to the minor leagues.
Bard normally starts throwing Jan. 1, but he began preparing for the 2019 season Nov. 1 with higher-intensity practices as he honed his slider and changeup.
“When you feel good,” Bard said, “it’s easy to push yourself.”
In February, he got another chance. The Angels signed him to a minor league deal.
Ausmus said the only difference he saw was in Bard’s comfort level — a change that translated into his performance.
“I think he knows he’s got the ability to pitch at the big league level now,” Ausmus said.
Not a surprise to Ausmus, or to Daniel Bard, who has watched his younger brother overcome each setback up close.
“He tends to kind of be the leader wherever he goes,” Daniel said. “So I anticipate that.”