VIERA, Fla. - Ever wonder what happened to Heath Bell? So does Heath Bell.
The former Mets reliever and blink-and-you-missed-it Yankees farmhand (a 10-day stint last June) has fallen hard and fast since his best days as a closer with the Padres.
After Bell was released from the Yankees' Triple-A club with a 7.50 ERA in five appearances, he didn't try to hook up with another team. He went home and told his agent to concentrate on getting him a job in the offseason for 2015.
So when Bell's agent, Scott Lonergan, reported strong interest from the Washington Nationals in November -- early in the free-agent process -- Bell was surprised. "I was like, 'You sure?' " Bell recalled.
Two days before Christmas, the Nationals signed Bell to a minor-league contract and invited him to spring training. The 37-year-old reported to camp 30 pounds lighter than last year as he tries to extend his career with a World Series contender.
"I told my kids, 'I didn't want my career to end that way,' " Bell said. "I want to give it my all and teach my kids you can get knocked down and people can say you're no good, you're old, blah blah, but if you have passion, you can work really hard and you can go and give it your all, and if it doesn't work out, at least you can hold your head high."
Bell, who broke in with the Mets in 2004 before being traded to his hometown Padres after the 2006 season, saved 132 games for San Diego from 2009-11. He signed a three-year, $27-million contract with the Marlins before the 2012 season and has been ineffective ever since the ink dried.
From 2011 to 2012, Bell's saves fell from 43 to 19 and his ERA rose from 2.44 to 5.09. He wasn't much better for Arizona in 2013 (15 saves, 4.11 ERA) and fell off the baseball map in 2014 after getting released by Tampa Bay (7.27 ERA in 13 games) and appearing in 10 games with the Orioles' Triple-A team (4.35 ERA).
Bell's brief stint in the Yankees' organization ended after a conversation with general manager Brian Cashman.
"He was really honest with me," Bell said. "He said, 'Unless somebody gets hurt, you're probably not going up,' and I said, 'Well, I appreciate that.' I said, 'I'm probably going to leave, take my out [that was in his contract].' He was nothing but first-class. They let me go the day before my out, so it was like a mutual thing."
Then came the call Bell wasn't expecting so early in the offseason. "My agent called me and said, 'Dude, Washington really wants you,' " Bell said. "I was like, 'This early? I [stunk] the last couple of years.' "
The Nationals traded setup man Tyler Clippard to Oakland and let former Yankee Rafael Soriano leave as a free agent. So there are openings behind closer Drew Storen.
Entering yesterday's action, Bell had appeared in two games. He hadn't allowed a hit or run in two innings, and had struck out four and walked two.
Still, Bell knows he will have to show a lot in a short amount of time to win a job. He thinks he can.
"My plan is to get batters out," he said. "That's it. Keep it simple. Just get batters out."
Sign up for Newsday’s Mets Messages for updates directly to your phone via text, free with a Newsday digital subscription. Learn more at newsday.com/metstext.