There wasn’t much Orioles news to come out of the Winter Meetings beyond the decision to hire Brandon Hyde as manager, whatever the zealous level of the reports. Roster rumblings pretty much were limited to the Rule 5 draft and a waiver claim of third baseman Rio Ruiz. But two injury updates were noteworthy.
Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said he expected reliever Richard Bleier and outfielder/designated hitter Mark Trumbo to be ready for opening day based on the reports he read, filling two spots that had the potential to stay open and allow for additional spring competitions.
Trumbo is recovering from knee surgery, Bleier from a procedure to repair a Grade 3 tear in his left latissimus dorsi muscle. Bleier got a head start by suffering the injury on June 13.
The odds are less favorable for Trumbo following his surgery on Sept. 7 to repair a hole in the cartilage from general wear and tear that caused extreme discomfort and limited him to 90 games. The procedure, known as “DeNovo,” is a juvenile cartilage implant from a donor that’s packed into the opening and requires time to harden.
Imagine a pothole being filled.
Trumbo, who batted .261/.313/.452 with 17 home runs, also received treatment for an arthritic condition in the knee.
“With this surgery, the timelines are a little bit longer than what most people probably would think where I am,” Trumbo said. “Right now, I feel that the strength is where it needs to be. Most everything I’m doing is completely pain-free. I haven’t progressed into any kind of running yet, but that will be coming up, as will hitting and baseball activity-type stuff. But it’s pretty important to not push things too quickly.
“I think that’s generally how guys get into trouble with a similar procedure to this. And if you really lay the groundwork and do it correctly, returning to play is something that’s totally reasonable.”
Trumbo’s procedure for his cartilage defect is similar to the one that Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia underwent in October 2017 and he appeared in only three games last season.
Asked about being ready for opening day, Trumbo replied, “I’d love if that were the case, obviously.”
“I’ve tried to be really realistic,” he said. “You hope for the best, obviously. I think it would be incredible if I was able to hit the ground running on opening day and I’m doing everything I can to prepare for that. But if you look at the protocol and stuff like this, the timelines sometimes are a little bit longer. So, I think it all really comes down to, when it’s pain-free, get after it and if there’s some swelling, you’ve got to deal with that, too.”
Dr. Anthony Romeo performed Bleier’s surgery in New York and kept striking optimistic tones about the reliever’s availability for the start of spring training and the regular season opener on March 28 at Yankee Stadium.
“That was always the plan,” Bleier said on Thursday night’s “Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan.
“Even when we were mapping it out with the surgeon when I got hurt originally, it was ... I hate to say he joked about it, but he said, ‘You got hurt at the right time to be ready for next year. The way that the rehab process is for this injury, it puts you perfectly in line with being ready for spring training and the start of the season.’ And it gives us a little wiggle room where if I did have any setbacks or if there were any issues I maybe wouldn’t have taken a month off from throwing and I could have kept going and still had a little bit of time to get ready for spring training and stuff.
“Obviously, my goal was and still is to be 100 percent ready for next season. No restrictions on innings or days off and all that stuff. I just want to be the same pitcher I was the last couple of years. So far, so good, I’d say.”
The same pitcher who’s posted ERAs below 2.00 in all three of his major league seasons.
Throwing on flat ground has been uneventful for Bleier. The real challenge comes when he faces hitters without reliving the injury, which came after a pitch to the Red Sox’s Eduardo Núñez at Camden Yards.
It’s reminiscent of closer Zach Britton being able to break off the mound and cover the bag without worrying about his surgically repaired Achilles tendon.
“Throwing is fine,” Bleier said, “but I think making that first competitive pitch is definitely my next biggest hurdle. Just trusting that my lat’s going to stay attached to my shoulder.”
The non-waiver deadline trades of Britton, Brad Brach and Darren O’Day have left Bleier as the senior member of the bullpen, with his 32nd birthday coming in April. Mike Wright Jr. turned 29 on Thursday. Mychal Givens will be 29 in May. Donnie Hart is 28, Paul Fry is 26, and Miguel Castro and Tanner Scott are 24.
“I guess I’m used to it because repeating Double-A for six years, I’ve always been the oldest guy on the team,” Bleier said. “It was never a good thing then. But I think it’s obviously a huge change where I carrying the bullpen bag at one point last year still because I had the least amount of service time in the bullpen and now obviously it’ll be a little different this year.
“I don’t think that’s good or bad. I think it’s just different. The guys that we have will be fully capable of doing the job just as well as the last group of guys.”
Bleier hasn’t met manager Brandon Hyde, but he’s reporting to the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota this week and could be there for a shortened minicamp that’s mostly in place to allow new hires to familiarize themselves with the facility.
“I haven’t heard much about him,” Bleier said. “I know that he comes from a winning organization, and from what I have heard it’s been nothing but positive things. But other than that, we’ll see how it goes.
“I read some quotes where he said he doesn’t believe in rebuilding processes and he wants to win, which I completely agree with. I think that we’re going to have 25 major league guys on the team that will be ready to compete. I don’t think that anybody is just going to roll over because we’re quote, unquote, rebuilding or whatever.”
Trumbo has spoken to Hyde over the phone.
“He seems great, he seems like a great fit for where we’re going,” Trumbo said. “He seems like he said a lot of the things that I believe in. That’s cause for some really good optimism.
“We’re obviously in a very tough division, but I think you go in with the mindset that anything can happen. It might be a longshot on paper, but good, quality baseball, especially the type that various other teams around the league have displayed, goes a long way.
“It could be a very long year, but thinking about it like that, it probably will materialize that way. I think all you can ask is the team goes out and battles every day and the improvement that you want to see starts taking place. Sometimes, it takes a few years, but this is a great place to start.”
None of the coaching hires have been announced and there are positions that need to be filled. Bleier has no idea who’s going to handle the pitching staff as Roger McDowell’s replacement.
“That should be interesting to see how that shapes up,” Bleier said. “I haven’t really experienced something like this, so I really don’t know what to expect at all. I’ve had Buck (Showalter) and I had Joe Girardi with the Yankees. And before that, even when I was in the minor leagues, I had the same manager in Double-A, Steve Buechele. I had him for years, so I really haven’t had much turnover in terms of managers and pitching coaches.
“I’ll be just as curious to see how it plays out as you guys.”