PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — New team, fresh start, clean perspective.
Reliever Heath Bell looks to recapture the consistency that made him an All-Star each season from 2009 to 2011 with the San Diego Padres. After three consecutive years with a sub-3.00 ERA, he posted a 5.09 in 63 2/3 innings with the Miami Marlins in 2012.
Bell, 36, showed slight improvement last season with the Arizona Diamondbacks, going 5-2 with a 4.11 ERA in 65 2/3 innings. But the right-hander, a 10-year veteran, fell short of the standard that made him one of the strongest staples of the Padres’ bullpen late in his time there.
Bell will try to achieve it with the Tampa Bay Rays. Last December, he was acquired in a three-team deal that also saw catcher Ryan Hanigan arrive from the Cincinnati Reds.
Occasionally, FOX Sports Florida will catch up with new faces in the Rays clubhouse during spring training. Here’s a closer look at Bell …
FOX SPORTS FLORIDA: How would you describe your transition?
BELL: It’s always mind-racking learning everybody’s name. But everybody has been great to me, and I think the other guys really treat us like we have been here before. … It’s fun. From day one, everybody was really happy and excited — not just the coaching staff, but the players and stuff like that. It was nice. I don’t think there are many clubhouses like that. You don’t know a guy, maybe you don’t talk to him — you just wait until you’re on the field, and you guys interact. Here, guys come straight over. I saw them (do so) not just to me but to other guys, too. So it was really nice to see in the clubhouse.
FSF: Was that atmosphere something you expected?
BELL: I’ve been on many different teams, and that doesn’t happen on every team. That happens on good-chemistry teams. I was a little surprised, but I knew this team was good. They were good on the playing field, and you always see them have fun on TV, but you didn’t know if that was just a few guys and if everybody bought in and if everybody was all team-oriented and (about) family. And yeah, this is definitely a team-oriented family. A lot of clubs say that they’re family-oriented, but when it comes down to it, it’s not. I think here, it definitely is.
FSF: Some have said this could be an opportunity for you to rebound in your career. How are you approaching this situation?
BELL: Like I do with every season. I got ready for the season trying to be one of the best bullpen guys with the Rays. My expectations are to try to pitch in more games than anybody else on the team. That’s pretty much it. I’ve got to keep the ball down and keep people out, but I’m not looking to close, set up, be the long guy, short-relief guy, what not, (be the) lefty specialist, righty specialist. I’m just going out there and trying to keep the ball down and just do well. I want to be one of the most reliable guys in the bullpen. So that’s got to start from day one, in spring training, to day one in the season. I’ve got to keep the ball down consistently, got to get people out. And if (manager) Joe (Maddon) wants to put me in the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth (innings) — if he wants to put me in a long spot, put me in whatever — hopefully I’m physically and mentally ready to do it, because that’s what we’ve been training for all winter.
FSF: You appeared in three consecutive All-Star games from 2009 to 2011. What worked well in those years?
BELL: I started as a sixth-inning guy, back in ’07 (with the Padres). Unfortunately in my career, I had one bad year, and everybody kind of pushed me aside. I’ve been trying to rebuild from that. Last year, I think I did a little bit. Unfortunately, we had such a bad bullpen. I was a part of it. We just didnât do well as a group, so it also looked bad, where I thought last year I did pretty good. But I’m here with the Rays now. I think the Rays saw some highlights in me otherwise they wouldn’t have traded for me. They don’t trade for guys who can’t get the job done. So I think they saw what I saw. It’s just unfortunate that I had one bad year, and I get pushed aside. But that’s fine. That’s my journey. That’s my legacy in this game. I’ve still got a good four or five years left in me. Do I want to close? Yeah, but I most likely think it’s probably not going to happen for the next couple years. But I want to be on a team that wins. My old saying was, ‘I want to be one of the best guys in the bullpen.’ I don’t care about my role. I remember in ’07, I think I was one of the best guys there. … I just want to go out there and be one of the best guys to pitch in those games, and I think I did that that year, and the rest is history. This year, I’m in the American League. I feel like it’s a fresh, new start. I don’t have my old number. I just showed up and said, ‘Hey, just give me whatever number you want.’ They gave me 13. I think it’s pretty cool. … I’m excited. It’s like a fresh, new start. It’s American League, new hitters. I’m just trying to go out there and keep the ball down. They asked me, ‘What do you want to work on?’ I said, ‘Keep the ball down and throw strikes.’ Just keep it simple.
FSF: What can be learned from adversity, and how will those lessons help you in this fresh start?
BELL: Well, you can’t just chalk it up to, ‘Well, I’ve faced this guy before.’ I think you’ve just got to keep doing your homework and keep studying. … What I’ve learned over my road is sometimes, I think, people have to go through trials — not necessarily for themselves but for other people around them. Because I think I do affect other people around me if I go crying and whining and this and that. Then other guys — younger guys — are going to emulate that and do that, where if I just go about my business … then maybe that (reserve) position player, like, we’ve got to have a prospect first baseman, and (James) Loney just signs a three-year deal, and (the reserve) is like (hypothetically), ‘Oh man,’ and heâs just pissing and moaning, and heâs like, ‘I want to be traded’ and this and that, where if he can just go about his business and just do it, and Loney might get hurt, he might not. The kid might get traded. Opportunity is going to open up. I kind of feel like sometimes guys have got to go through bumps in the road not just to help themselves out but help other guys out in the clubhouse.
BELL: Everybody keeps telling me that we’re going to be really good. Everybody’s really good on paper. I can say that we’re going to show it in spring training. That doesn’t really count. It matters what we do out in the season. So I think if we go out in spring training and do what we need to do to get ready for the season, and we all do that and just not care about how many runs we get, our ERA, and how many strikeouts (we get) and all that stuff — I think we’re a good bullpen once the season starts. If we go out there and try to get better for the season, then I think we’re a pretty good bullpen. Until then, everybody can say, ‘We’re a good bullpen,’ and this and that. But until we actually go do it out there during the game, I don’t think we’re really going to know too much, because you can be great on paper. I’m pretty sure that there are 30 teams that are great on paper.
FSF: What makes a good bullpen?
BELL: Everybody’s on the same page. The eighth-inning guys want to be in the ninth inning and the seventh inning. If they need to help out (another reliever), they want to help him out. I don’t know everybody in the bullpen. But let’s say I’m the mop-up guy, and we know (Grant) Balfour is the closer. And I’m out there, game’s 8-0. It’s the ninth inning. I’ve already pitched an inning or two, and I’m struggling. He’s itching to go out there to help me out, because he doesn’t want me to do badly. That’s what makes a great bullpen, because if it’s not even your role, you want to go out there and help that guy. You want everybody in the pen to do well, because we’re all on the same page. You don’t want, ‘Oh, look at him. You’re having a bad year. I’m having a good year. You stay in that role, and I’ll stay in this role.’ The worst guy in the bullpen can help the best guy in the bullpen — just talking about pitches or this and that. … If we’re all on the same page and we’re a tight-knit family that’s what makes a great bullpen. Like, if we hang out together — we don’t necessarily need to go out and all that. But if we do stuff together, and we become a tight-knit bullpen, that’s what makes a great bullpen. I don’t necessarily think it’s the arms.
FSF: How good can this team be? Any predictions?
BELL: We can only be as good as our weakest link. Whoever makes that 25th (spot), we’re only as good as he is, plain and simple. If halfway through the season, we ship him out for another guy we’re only going to be as good as that guy. … We’re only as good as that No. 25. We’re not as good as our No. 1 player — you could say, I don’t know, Wil (Myers), Longo (Evan Longoria), Ben (Zobrist) or (David) Price, I don’t know whoever you want to call our best player. We’re only as good as our No. 25. So if I’m No. 25, I think weâre going to be pretty darn good. We’re only as good as our No. 25 guy. Who knows who that will be? I don’t even think Joe knows who that will be.