MESA, Ariz. -- For the first time in what seems like an eternity, Cubs pitcher Daniel Bard got to face batters, and it felt great.
Bard, 29, threw a simulated game on Sunday. It may seem like a small step, but it was huge for the right-hander, who is coming back after undergoing Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery in January 2014, which forced him to miss all of last season.
"It felt really good -- it was fun," said Bard of Sunday's outing.
Bard appeared briefly in four games for the Rangers' Class A Hickory team last year as part of his rehab, then took the rest of the summer off.
"The velocity was nice to have," Bard said, "but I was more excited that I was pounding the zone and throwing a lot of strikes."
It was Bard's first sim game this spring.
"It's the first time I've had a hitter in the box since last year, but I don't know if I count those," Bard said of the Minor League games. "Since I've been feeling good, it's the first time I've had a hitter in the box. It was fun."
Bard, who was one of the game's top setup pitchers in 2010, when he posted a 1.93 ERA in 73 games with the Red Sox, expected to throw another sim game before there's any talk of getting into a Cactus League game.
"I've been pushing [pitching coach Chris Bosio] as hard as I can to get out in a real game, but their conservative approach seems to be working well," Bard said. "I get it. When I step outside myself, I see what they're saying. For me, I haven't felt this good in so long, I want to keep pushing it."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.