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Heath Bell on time with D-Backs: “I always felt like I was trying to swim upstream”

Feb 21, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT

Heath Bell Getty Getty Images

Since leaving the spacious confines of Petco Park as the closer for the Padres, Heath Bell has had a tough time. Going into the 2012 season, Bell signed a three-year, $27 million contract. He struggled all year, eventually getting moved out of the ninth inning by then-manager Ozzie Guillen. Bell finished with a 5.09 ERA in 63 2/3 innings. The Marlins traded him to the Diamondbacks after the season. Bell continued to struggle and was used infrequently in save situations. He finished with a 4.11 ERA in 65 2/3 innings.

Now a Ray, coming over in a three-team trade that also involved the Reds, Bell is happy to contribute to a contender. He won’t close — that job presently belongs to Grant Balfour — but hopes the Rays will let him pitch the way he likes to pitch. Bell reflected on his time in Arizona, saying that he “always felt like [he] was trying to swim upstream”. Via Barry M. Bloom of

“My pitching style is a little different than most pitchers and most closers,” Bell said. “I wanted to go out there and pitch my style. We didn’t really see eye to eye after awhile. I always felt like I was trying to swim upstream. I try to mix up my pitches. Closers usually come in and pound the strike zone with fastballs. I have a good fastball, but not one that I can just blow by anybody.

“I like to go in and out, use both sides of the plate. I felt like they wanted me to go in a lot more. My style was more away, but I was trying to do their style. It was just tough. When the catcher and the pitcher really don’t see eye to eye it’s hard to go out there and have a really good game. They wanted me to pitch in a way I’d never pitched before.”

Bell, 36, can become a free agent after the season if his 2015 option doesn’t vest at $9 million. In order for that to happen, Bell would need to finish 55 games this season, which seems unlikely to happen. This is an important season for him as it may preface his final opportunity to sign a seven-figure contract.

  1. leylandshospicenurse - Feb 21, 2014 at 11:24 PM

    Seems like a common theme with Bell.

    • 78mu - Feb 22, 2014 at 7:25 PM

      Has anyone considered this may be a John Axford situation where teams have picked up a tell while his team has no clue?

  2. nsauser - Feb 21, 2014 at 11:26 PM

    Bell has his faults for sure but he is on to something. Gibson does know how to run a pitching staff, someone could run the numbers but the bullpen sucked because they inherited risky situations (I.e. Runners on 2nd & 3rd with 1 or 2 outs).

    But Bell was hardly complimentary of the “catcher”. I guess Montero isn’t as well liked as previously thought.

  3. Old Gator - Feb 21, 2014 at 11:39 PM

    Bell was lousy for the Feesh, and he was one of the beeeg reasons they tanked in 2012 (the other being that they forgot how to drive in runs). Slobbering Ozzie finally pulled the plug on him only after he’d done his damage and the team was already hovering fourth place. You can’t really blame Ozzie for having waited that long because there’s a lot of pressure to keep your overpaid players in the ring in hopes that they’ll pan out eventually so you won’t have to eat their contracts. It was lose-lose. Bell was also about as much fun to have around the clubhouse as an outbreak of ringworm, quickly becoming, and staying, unpopular with his teammates for his excuses, badmouthing and bitching. Unloading him was front burner priority during the 12-13 orfseason. I have some good friends who are Rays fans who are not at all happy that he’s going to be plying his trade at the Tropicana Tumulus this season.

    • plmathfoto - Feb 21, 2014 at 11:42 PM

      Figured Old Gator would chime in. I live in Fort Lauderdale, and also watched that (aborted) deal they were doing on the Marlins, think on HBO, but don’t remember the station. In any case, Bell always has an excuse, never accepts blame nor fault, and it always bitching. This article surprises me not one bit.

  4. goldstar4robotboy - Feb 21, 2014 at 11:44 PM

    ” When the catcher and the pitcher really don’t see eye to eye it’s hard to go out there and have a really good game.”

    Miggy Montero getting all my-way-or-the-highway with a pitcher? NO WAI!

  5. gbrim - Feb 22, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    Bell is getting awfully high-maintenance for a guy with just average skills at this point in his career. He should close his yap and just pitch better, saving the editorializing for his family and close friends. To the public it just sounds like more excuses from the guy who left Miami with his career in trouble.

  6. icanspeel - Feb 22, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    The signs of his decline were there with his final year as a Padre, but the Marlins ignored it and gave him the large contract and teams been trying how to “fix” him since.

  7. sisqsage - Feb 22, 2014 at 12:38 PM

    All the time he was a Marlin, he wanted to be a salmon. No wonder it never worked.

  8. qcubed3 - Feb 22, 2014 at 4:56 PM

    “I always felt like I was trying to swim upstream” – Health Bell

    “What’s so hard about that” – Tim Salmon

    • qcubed3 - Feb 22, 2014 at 4:57 PM

      Crap. I didn’t read that last comment. Oh well.

  9. mtr75 - Feb 22, 2014 at 6:54 PM

    If you were swimming upstream you wouldn’t weight 800 pounds, Heath.

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