By R.L. Bynum
The two big Opening Day stories for former Tar Heels are right-handed pitchers Daniel Bard and Matt Harvey, both in their 30s, with plenty of hope entering the season.
Bard, 35, will be the Colorado Rockies’ closer and Harvey is getting another chance to prove himself, this time as the No. 2 starter in the Baltimore Orioles’ rotation.
Bard (top photo) converted all six save chances last season with a 3.65 ERA in 24⅔ innings with 27 strikeouts and 10 walks and finished the season as the Rockies’ closer.
In 7⅓ spring innings, Bard gave up two hits, no runs, walked three and struck out 11.
“It’s been a wild ride,” Bard told MLB Network. “All I can say is that in 2013, I hit some pretty big bumps in the road. Spent the next five years kind of grinding through the minor leagues just on a bunch of different back fields and minor-league assignments, but didn’t even sniff the big leagues the whole time.”
After retiring in 2019, he started coaching mental skills with the Arizona Diamondbacks. During that time, he noticed that it felt different when he started throwing.
“After two years of coaching, I decided to get on the mound and see what was left and it was better than I thought,” Bard said. “I decided to make a run and it’s worked out pretty well.”
The Orioles selected Harvey’s contract and added him to their 40-man roster late last week, and he’s scheduled to make his debut with the team Saturday in Boston. Baltimore signed him to a minor-league contract in the offseason.
After starting in the 2013 All-Star Game and in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series, he’s dealt with plenty of struggles with a 5.82 ERA since then. But Harvey hopes to turn things around this season.
Harvey, who turned 32 Saturday, told The Washington Post that he isn’t trying to regain his old form and instead wants to find a better form. That wisdom comes from Chris Holt, Baltimore’s director of pitching.
“The big thing that Chris Holt likes to say is, ‘You should never look back and try and be just as good as you were before,’ ” Harvey told the Post. “He’s tried to emphasize that with some new weapons, with smarter pitching, maybe I could be even better, at least strive to be better.
“In my mind, if I can prepare and make sure everything is lined up to be successful, then who knows what’s going to happen? I’m not going to try and be as good as I was. I’m trying to be better. I think that’s what you’ll see on the mound.” Harvey said.
Another good pitching story is right-hander J.B. Bukauskas, who had an excellent spring with overpowering stuff, although the Arizona Diamondbacks still assigned him to minor-league camp.
He finished the spring with eight consecutive scoreless appearances, striking out 14, walking no batters and allowing only three hits in 7⅔ innings.
Bukauskas was UNC’s ace in 2017, his junior season, when he went 9–1 with a 2.53 with 116 strikeouts in 92⅔ innings. He was a consensus All-American.
In Double-A in 2019, he went 6–7 with a 4.06 ERA, one save with 88 walks and 189 strikeouts in 161⅔ innings. He started 16 games.
Zac Gallen was ticketed for the top of the Diamondbacks’ rotation before he suffered a hairline stress fracture to his right lateral forearm. For now, he’s still playing catch at a low-stress level. The problem first showed up when he was jammed by a pitch while taking batting practice off of a pitching machine on March 10.
Gallen was 3–2 with a 2.75 ERA last season and finished ninth in the National League Cy Young Award voting. Some preseason predictions have him as the NL Cy Young favorite this season.
In 12⅓ spring innings, Gallen struck out 11, walked three, allowed three runs and had a 2.19 ERA.
Left-hander Andrew Miller is back in the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen after only pitching 13 innings last season. He had to get past a preseason bout with COVID-19 but is raring to go.
“I’m not holding back,” Miller told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Would have preferred a full season and everything to be normal — I know we’re all craving normal. That’s the hope that I feel a little fresher, that I can handle a little more this year. Why not take advantage? To be completely honest, I’m trying to do that even more. I think keeping my foot on the gas is something I need to work on. It makes all of my pitches better.”
Miller gave up five hits and three runs in 4⅔ innings over five spring appearances.
Trent Thornton is back with the Toronto Blue Jays and pitched two hitless shutout innings with four strikeouts Tuesday after officially getting word Sunday that he made the major-league team. He gave up three hits and no runs while striking out 11 in seven spring innings.
Last season, he gave up seven runs in 5⅔ innings for Toronto over three appearances.
Three position players enter the season with starting spots secured: first baseman Colin Moran and catcher Jacob Stallings of the Pittsburgh Pirates and third baseman Kyle Seager of the Seattle Mariners.
Moran played mostly DH last season after making a total of 24 errors in 2018 and 2019 at third base. He’ll start at first base, replacing Josh Bell, who Pittsburgh dealt to Washington in the offseason.
During the spring, Moran, with that distinctive red beard, hit .278 with two home runs and six RBI in 14 games after hitting .247 with 10 homers and 23 RBI in 52 games last season.
Stallings, rated as one of the best defensive catchers in the major leagues, hit .147 with a homer and four RBI in 15 spring games after batting .248 with three homers and 18 RBI in 42 games last season. At 31, he’s the oldest player on the Pirates roster.
Seager hit .350 with a homer and seven RBI in 17 spring training games after he hit .241 with nine homers and 32 RBIs in 60 games last season.
In addition to Bukauskas, others assigned to minor-league camp with minor-league seasons not starting until May were outfielder Skye Bolt (Oakland), catcher Tim Federowicz (Los Angeles Dodgers), outfielder Brian Goodwin (Pittsburgh), pitcher Trevor Kelley (Chicago Cubs), Brian Moran (Tampa Bay), RP Mike Morin (Miami) and pitcher Adam Warren (New York Yankees).
Warren is recovering from a sore right shoulder but has been throwing for about a week.
Tar Heels on major-league rosters
RP Daniel Bard — Rockies
SP Zac Gallen — Diamondbacks
SP Matt Harvey — Orioles
RP Andrew Miller — Cardinals
1B Colin Moran — Pirates
3B Kyle Seager — Mariners
C Jacob Stallings — Pirates
RP Trent Thornton — Blue Jays
Tar Heels in minor-league camp
SP J.B. Bukauskas — Diamondbacks
OF Skye Bolt — A’s
C Tim Federowicz — Dodgers
OF Brian Goodwin — Pirates
RP Trevor Kelley — Cubs
RP Brian Moran — Rays
RP Mike Morin — Marlins
P Adam Warren — Yankees