Two seasons ago, they were two of the best in the business.
One struck out 73 batters in 70 innings, limiting opponents to a .179 batting average and .546 OPS while throwing 561 of his 743 fastballs at 97 mph or better.
That pitcher's name was Daniel Bard.
The other fanned 61 batters in 68 2/3 frames, with opposing batters hitting .229 with a .543 OPS. He threw 637 of his 848 fastballs that season at 97 mph or higher.
He was Joel Hanrahan.
A year later, Hanrahan is the new closer for the Red Sox, being classified as one of the best game-enders in the American League before celebrating one save in his new league.
Bard? His existence is a bit more complicated.
"I started throwing last week, just kind of real light, three times a week for the first couple of weeks," Bard said by phone Friday. "Just pretty light catch, trying to get everything going again. It feels good to pick up a ball again."
When the Red Sox completed their deal for Hanrahan earlier in the week, the focus immediately went to the bullpen depth chart. How would Andrew Bailey feel about being bumped down to the eighth inning? Where did Koji Uehara fit in? How about the rest of the relievers -- Andrew Miller, Craig Breslow, Franklin Morales, Alfredo Aceves, Junichi Tazawa?
The conversation rarely turned to Bard, the pitcher who was just as good (if not better) than the pitcher (Hanrahan) who had been designated as the greatest accomplishment of the Red Sox' offseason. The 27-year-old understood the murkiness regarding his role. Leaving the kind of last impression '12 provided -- 6.22 ERA in the majors with an uneasy 31-appearance stretch in Triple-A -- will do that.
But as far as Bard is concerned, if things return to normal -- the '11 kind of normal -- he would be dictating the depth chart. Now he is ready to start rediscovering that existence once more.
"I haven't really thought about how it affects my situation," said Bard of the Hanrahan acquisition. "I know I have a lot to prove coming into spring training, and I'm getting ready for that. Obviously my goal is to get back to the role I held for two or three years, setting up or better. Whatever I earn, that's my goal.
"I was a little bit surprised. Having Bailey already here makes our team better without a doubt. You bring a proven, successful power arm in the late innings, that's always going to make your team better. I think we were going to have a good bullpen without him, and now he just will make it better."
"Nothing is going to be handed to me, but at the same time it's really nice having a relationship with [Red Sox manager] John [Farrell]. He's seen before. He's seen me enough that regardless of how things go in spring training, he can look at me on the mound and say, 'OK, that's the Daniel Bard I saw for two years when I coached him.' Or, 'That's not him and we can work on these things and let's get him back to what he's comfortable with.' It's nice to have someone I don't have to completely win over. It's not a completely new set of eyes who I have to try and convince I'm a good major league pitcher. It's somebody who knows me as a major league pitcher."
The return of Farrell is just part of what Bard considers solving the mystery of '12. There is uncovering what went wrong, and when it went wrong, during his nightmarish season, along with how he might alter the approach in the coming year.
After three months away, and one of two offseason vacations in the books, Bard feels like he can start finding the kind of clarity from which solutions are usually born.
"That couple of months off is kind of refreshing," he said. "You're able to hit the reset button quite a bit, and it's a very real thing. You go through the grind of the season when things aren't going the way you planned and you really don't have time to catch your break. I've never looked forward to the offseason so much. You just need that couple of months getting away from it to kind of really reset yourself.
"It's been good. The day to day nature of baseball doesn't allow you to step away from it, physically or mentally. Every day is a battle and it keeps getting thrown at you and you keep getting thrown out there. It's good to have some time to sit back and look at the season for what it was from a distance. For me it's in the past. It's just as in the past as my good seasons."
What Bard left behind this time, however, wasn't like anything he anticipated could have come his way. Looking back, he can now identify the impetus for some of his issues, while eyeing what a difference one year might make.
"Just trying to change roles, and doing that for a little while, and never getting a real affirmative that was my job to keep," he said when contemplating where his path started to detour. "That whole time I was starting really felt like it was a tryout even though it was 10 or 11 starts, with every single one getting questions from coaches. 'How did you feel?' 'Are you comfortable?' 'Are you sure you don't want to go back to the bullpen?' And questions from the media … Just constantly, constantly answering questions about the conversion to starting. It was never really healthy for me. I was never able to just settle into the role and trust my stuff and let it play. All the people were asking questions. I was wondering if I was not doing something right. The results were mixed, some good, some bad. But it felt like the bad got a lot more focused on than the good starts I had. I think it kind of snowballed on me.
"It wasn't even like, 'We doubt you can do this, what do you think?' I could just tell there was a lot of indecision, especially when Bailey went down and our bullpen was uncertain. Some people thought the logical thing would be to put me back there right when the season started, but that didn't happen. It wasn't hard to tell that there were members of the front office and part of the coaching staff that said, 'Hey, this guy has turned into a good starter and we have to stick with it and he'll get better.' And I could tell there were other members of the coaching staff and front office who were saying, 'Hey, we have a known commodity here in the bullpen, let's leave him there and put him back.' You could tell there wasn't a lot of agreement and it kind of showed in a way that I got a lot of mixed messages. I don't think I was the only person who had some communication issues last year. It's just, it is what it is and the results were a tough year."
The results of life as a starter were mixed for Bard, with the righty finishing his 10-start run with an ERA of 5.30 during which time the Red Sox went 4-6 in games he appeared. The final numbers were drastically affected, however, by his last start of the season, in which he walked six and allowed five runs in just 1 2/3 innings against the Blue Jays. Prior to that June 3 appearance, Bard was coming off back-to-back 5 1/3-inning, five-hit, two-run outings, one of which bested Detroit's Justin Verlander.
After the start in Toronto, Bard re-entered the world of relieving, but had to do it in Triple-A. In Pawtucket, the results only got worse, as he had a 7.03 ERA in 31 appearances, walking 29 in 32 innings. There would be a call-up back to Boston, but that only left the pitcher more eager than ever to arrive at the offseason.
"It happened kind of fast," he said. "It was probably the reason the demotion to Triple-A kind of shocked me more than anything. I recognized the bad start in Toronto for what it was. Going into that start I never thought I needed to pitch well or I'm going to end up in Triple-A. That never crossed my mind, or anybody's mind, I don't think. I think that shock hit me a little harder than I would have liked and I probably could have handled it a little better. Off the field, I handled it fine, but when you feel like you have something to prove every time out, it's hard to pitch that way."
Through it all, Bard is now trying to learn from what had been six months of painful lessons.
Part of the solution has been to concentrate on a different workout regimen, one that concentrates on his core. Few knew that Bard had been dealing with back pain for much of '12 season, an issue that he doesn't want to use as an excuse, but can't be discounted when analyzing the pieces of the problems.
"It had to have something to do with it, in my mind," said Bard of his back affecting his drop in velocity. "The high inning workload early in the season … I did a lot trying to come into camp last year in good shape. I started throwing earlier. I tried to build my legs up a little bit. Maybe the core was neglected a little bit because I didn't realize the more pitches, the more innings there was going to be more pull on my core and my back. I think the high innings total early in the year and in spring training kind of took a toll. It was bothering me in between most of my starts, just having to get treatment every day. Not to the point where I missed anything. It kind of stayed with me until the end of the year. It's hard to pitch without your core. You hips and your core is where a lot of velocity comes from. If my lower back isn't firing and responding like it's supposed to, I think it's hard to create that same level of torque like I had in the past.
"I probably didn't tell a lot of it to the trainers, and probably should have gotten treatment on it pretty regularly, but at the same time I was trying to make the rotation and I didn't want to miss a start, which would have hurt my chances. I just kind of pitched through it. Normally it was fine. I wasn't thinking about it out on the mound, ever. But it was an issue between starts, and once your adrenaline kicked in you might forget about it. But there were probably still some issues there. I've had lower back stiffness throughout my whole career, this was just a little bit more."
Another subtle adjustment that Bard has prioritized is to enter '13 carrying a bit more poundage. Throughout the early years of his big league career, he would pitch at upwards of 210 pounds. In '12, the pitcher played the majority of the season at 203 pounds.
Not a big deal, but a deal, nonetheless.
"I lost some weight last year. I don't know if that did anything. I've made a point to pack on a few pounds this offseason," he said. "In the minor leagues I would always try to consciously gain weight. And in the big leagues I didn't want to push anything too hard and end up with an injury. So just did the same routine because it had led to the same success. This year I went back to the mindset of making some gains in the weight room."
Bard understands it all adds up -- the health, conditioning, mindset and mechanics. But it's a package he has put together before, and sees no reason why it can't be constructed once more.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said.