PHOENIX — Heath Bell will return to Miami this weekend as the same effective, efficient closer he was before he got there in 2012 and the one he has become again with five saves in the last nine games for the Diamondbacks. Logic points to Miami, the biggest variable, as the cause of the blip on the resume that last year became.
Bell, however, will not point. He has taken the high road since leaving, even in the days before the Diamondbacks’ trip. He has done no Marlin-bashing after escaping via the three-team trade last winter, even though it is obvious in hindsight that then-Miami manager Ozzie Guillen never had the same faith in Bell that ownership showed when he was signed to a three-year, $27 million free-agent deal after seasons of 42, 47 and 43 saves in San Diego from 2009-11.
The lack of trust hurt as much as the lack of success (4-5, 5.09 ERA, 19 saves in 27 chances) — probably more. But Bell has moved on, even as he is sure that some in Miami have not.
“I’m going to be booed, just like I was in San Diego. The fans are going to boo me because of how I performed, and trust me, I was more disappointed in myself,” Bell said. “But sometimes you have bad years. Last year was a learning experience for me. I think I am a better person and a better player because of it. All I can do is try to be a better person from now on.”
Bell said he has been taught “to love everybody, even people that do wrong to me, so I try not to say anything bad.”
He continued, “Sometimes people don’t understand what they do. Sometimes I don’t understand what I do. I am going to try my darnedest not to say anything negative. The situation is going to arrive, and I’m just going to try to love on my experiences in Miami. Miami blessed my family. It wasn’t always the best thing, but I made some good friends over there.”
In putting 2012 in its proper place, Bell applies one of the lessons he learned from his late father, Jim, a former Marine who underwent open heart surgery in late February and passed away a few weeks ago in his home in Texas. He had battled cancer for three years.
“Like my dad always told me, everybody gets knocked down, but not everybody will get back up and try to climb to the top again. Marines are not going to stop until they get to the top again. I don’t plan on stopping,” Bell said.
“I’m just trying to keep climbing.”
Bell’s Arizona experience has been basically the opposite of what it was in Miami. He opened last season as the closer but did not get through April without Guillen pulling him out of the role following an inconsistent start. Bell yo-yoed back and forth between bullpen roles the rest of the year. When the D-backs saw him in late August, they noticed that he still had the same low- to mid-90s velocity and were willing to discount the lack of success for a West Coast transplant gone east.
“I don’t think where he went was anything like he envisioned it,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “I mean, he’s in a different division. He had his reasons for doing it, but it just didn’t work out. That can happen to anybody anywhere. One guy could go to one team and it works great, (then) the next guy goes there and it doesn’t work great. It’s not that it was a bad place to go, it’s just the situation didn’t work out good for him.”
Bell entered spring training as the D-backs’ seventh-inning reliever, and after a couple of rough early outings, he worked through some mechanical adjustments with pitching coach Charles Nagy. Bell got right just when the D-backs needed him, as J.J. Putz was diagnosed with a right elbow strain that landed him on the disabled list in early May.
Bell has converted five of six save opportunities in nine games since, and his fastball registered 96 mph on the Chase Field radar gun on consecutive pitches Tuesday night. He has held one-run leads twice and two-run leads three times.
“We went back and looked at when he was good,” Gibson said. “Is it mechanical or is it mental, or do they go together? There were some things within him that we saw, and Charlie talked to him about it.
“He had a couple rocky outings, but in general we’re trying to get him in a stable environment, getting to know each other, giving him a better opportunity to succeed. We kind of brought him along slow, and all of a sudden here, we need him.”