On the same afternoon that the Orioles activated Richard Bleier from the 60-day disabled list, the reliever was picking up a baseball at Cressey Sports Performance in Jupiter, Fla., and making his first throw since undergoing surgery to repair a Grade 3 tear in his left latissimus dorsi muscle.
Bleier posted the video about a week later on his Instagram account, announcing to all of his followers and anyone else with access to it that his rehab was moving along at the proper pace and with the desired results.
The injury occurred on June 13 after Bleier unfurled one pitch to Eduardo Núñez, inducing a ground ball and spinning off the mound in pain. He underwent surgery the following week, performed by Dr. Anthony Romeo in New York, with cautious optimism that he’d be full-go when pitchers and catchers report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex.
“I think that once I talked to the surgeon, he seemed very confident that I’d be ready for spring training,” Bleier said yesterday during a phone interview. “He said I got hurt at a pretty good time to be ready for next year, which isn’t that funny, but it worked out to where, yeah, I lost all of last season, but hopefully I won’t lose parts of next season. Or theoretically, I could not lose parts of next season if everything goes well.”
Bleier intended to put a ball in his hand again yesterday, shut down for an extended break and resume his program.
“Since we’re kind of playing it for spring training, I’m actually going to throw now and then take like three weeks off from throwing and then start throwing again, just so we’re not throwing all the way through pretty much 10 months straight,” Bleier said. “So take a break from throwing around the holidays. Throw a little bit up to like 90 feet just to test it and make sure everything’s good and then take time off and then kind of do a normal throwing program.
“Come back, throw, work off the mound, so the whole mound progression thing, and then throw bullpens and then throw to hitters and then throw in games. Just like a regular offseason. The injury kind of happened at a time when there’s some flexibility in the throwing. There’s even some time where if there are some issues and I need some time off, there should be some flexibility in there.”
The first throws on Nov. 2 came from a distance of 60 feet, but getting to that point meant enduring the surgery, having his arm in a sling for six weeks and waiting for clearance to begin performing exercises.
“I started physical therapy pretty quickly, just light stuff,” he said. “The first process is range of motion, obviously. Always in these injuries you want to get your full range of motion back and then you start building back strength and then throwing. Even when I was still in a sling I’d go to physical therapy three times a week, take the sling off and do some kind of range of motion stuff and gradually increase the intensity of it as the actual procedure healed.
“They said by about three months it’s pretty much healed and you can start lifting weights and really start working out and then four months you start throwing. So we kind of did the program based on being ready for spring training. We could wait a week to throw or whatever it was based on mapping it out to put me on the mound in February and be ready for spring training games. The ideal thing would be to be ready for spring training and with no setbacks I should be fully ready to go for games.”
Head athletic trainer Brian Ebel joined Bleier in Jupiter and has been in steady contact with Romeo and the personnel at Cressey Sports Performance. It’s like a replay of his work last winter with closer Zach Britton, who ruptured his Achilles tendon while running sprints.
“He actually flew down here last week,” Bleier said of Ebel. “He was the one, I should have given him photo credit. He took the video of me throwing. He came down and watched me throw and then watched me lift and talked with the guys down here, just so we’re all on the same page.
“When I was in town in New York, we met with the doctor. Ebel was there and we all met together. Just so we’re all on the same page about the rehab process and how things are going, so I don’t have to interpret what the doctor told me and then tell him or anything like that. He’s been really, really helpful through the whole process. Just kind of dealing with the doctors and setting things up and all that stuff, he’s been very, very helpful. And then I’ll go to Sarasota in January, where we’ll be working together every single day.”
One of the most valuable components of a bullpen that came apart piece by piece because of injuries and trades, Bleier posted a career-low 1.93 ERA and career-high 1.6 WAR (per Baseball-reference.com) in 32 2/3 innings stretched over 31 appearances. He’s had a sub-2.00 ERA in all three of his major league seasons and goes down as one of former executive vice president Dan Duquette’s finest acquisitions.
In keeping with the Orioles’ steady flow of misfortune this year, Bleier tore his lat one day after Britton finally made his debut. The bullpen was intact for about 24 hours.
Bleier can’t quite figure out why he sustained the injury. He’s played the pitch over and over in his mind. Nothing unusual happened except for the searing pain and the slow walk to the clubhouse with assistant athletic trainer Mark Shires.
Former manager Buck Showalter had a hunch that Bleier’s season was over. The expression on the reliever’s face backed the early diagnosis.
“It’s really hard,” he said. “You can’t really pinpoint one thing. It’s not like all of a sudden I started throwing a new pitch or moved into a new arm slot and all of a sudden something happened. It could be that I have 1,000 innings on my arm professionally and it just decided that was the end of it. I really don’t know.
“I’ve been throwing the same way for a long time and it’s been working out for a long time, so I don’t think it’s anything I need to change. I think it’s just a combination of workload and just overall wear and tear. Maybe that was it. They always say it’s a velocity-related injury because your lat does so much of the deceleration as well as the acceleration part. I said, well, I wish I had the velocity to back the injury. But I don’t know.
“I’m not worried about it happening again. You see guys with multiple elbow injuries and stuff like that, but the surgeon, Romeo, said he’s never had somebody re-rupture their lat, however many he’s done. He hasn’t done hundreds, but still, even if he’s done 30, no one’s reinjured it.”
Bleier said he didn’t feel any apprehension as he made those initial throws while Ebel held the video camera. Romeo’s words, the work he put into the rehab and a low-stress environment brought confidence that there would be no setbacks.
“I definitely thought about that and I think that doing the stuff before, like doing the dry throws and some stuff in the weight room that kind of simulates throwing, really I think helped me out. Plus, I knew I was only throwing 60 feet,” Bleier said.
“I feel like lifting weights and stuff is fine. I think honestly the biggest hurdle is going to be throwing 100 percent. Playing catch is easy. I think that trusting my arm to throw a competitive pitch will be the biggest step in the recovery process, which I feel like everybody deals with when you’re coming back.
“You can do all the stuff and play catch, but it’s that first pitch in your first game and just being able to trust in your delivery and maybe the pitch and not worrying about, ‘Is my arm going to get hurt again?’ And that’s good. I’ll be able to come back in spring training and get past all that and by the season I’ll be able to throw competitive pitches with execution in mind and not, ‘Am I going to get hurt again?’”
Meanwhile, USA Today is reporting that Astros assistant general manager Mike Elias is expected to become the Orioles’ general manager.
I heard yesterday that the Orioles made a decision, but couldn’t get confirmation on the name.
Elias, 36, oversees player development and minor league operations. He checks off a lot of boxes.
The Yale graduate joined the organization in December 2011 after working in St. Louis. He became an assistant GM in August 2016.
Here’s more on Elias.