As Orioles struggle, lefty Richard Bleier is thriving yet again

Can a pitcher who doesn’t throw very hard or strike out many batters succeed in the major leagues? Orioles reliever Richard Bleier is sure making it work yet again this season.

The lefty, who turned 31 yesterday, went 2-1 with a 1.99 ERA in 2017. It was a pretty strong first season as an Oriole. So far this year, he has allowed 10 hits and one run for an ERA of 0.75 over 12 innings.

Bleier features a heavy dose of sinkers and sliders and pitches often at 88 and 89 mph. Last year, he averaged 1.8 walks for every nine innings pitched and 3.7 strikeouts. This season those numbers are 1.5 and 3.8.

If you are looking for any hitters to get blown away by velocity here, you are looking in the wrong place. However, if you want to see a pitcher get a lot of outs, Bleier may be your guy.

Bleier is very aware that he cannot rest on his laurels from his 2017 success. But also smart enough to realize he doesn’t need to change what provided that.

Did last year’s success must have filled him with confidence when this season began?

Richard-Bleier-throw-orange-spring-sidebar.jpg“To a point, I guess. But, you know the second you get complacent, you can run into problems real quick,” he told me recently. “Things can be good until they’re not. So I worked hard this offseason and in the spring. I’ll keep pitching the way I pitch until it’s not effective anymore.”

Bleier pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings Sunday in Boston, his seventh scoreless game in eight outings. He’s held righty batters to a .160 average and all batters to an .071 average (1-for-14) when pitching with runners in scoring position.

Coming off that outstanding 2017 season, his pitching didn’t need much changing or tweaking.

“I would love to do the exact same thing I did last year, to be honest with you,” he said. “You know, there is always room for improvement, and there were things I wasn’t happy with last year and things I worked on this offseason. I think I got a little bit better.

“Just sequencing and some basic things (I can improve). I had a full year to see what worked and what didn’t and try some different things to help me.”

The hitters certainly know Bleier well by now. But he’ll continue to sink the ball and move the ball around the zone, mixing in his off-speed pitches and pounding the ball low in the strike zone. He’s always looking to get quick outs.

But he doesn’t sound too concerned that the hitters around the American League know him well now.

“Yeah, they do. But with today’s game and all the technology and advanced scouting, there are no secrets,” he said. “Relievers will go to their strengths nine times out of 10. It’s just about execution and making pitches regardless of hitters knowing what is coming. It goes both ways. We have plenty of information on the hitters, too. Yes, there is a book on me, but until it stops working, I’m going to do what I do to get guys out.”

For Bleier, doing what he does has been pretty solid since the day the Orioles acquired him from the Yankees before the 2017 season.

The schedule gets softer: It’s baseball, so even the teams with the worst records win plenty of games and series against the best teams. But the Orioles schedule - at least on paper - gets much softer starting tonight.

Will it make a big difference? We are going to find out.

Starting with tonight’s game at Detroit, the Orioles will play nine of their next 13 games against Detroit and Tampa Bay. Over their next 25 games through May 13, the Orioles play 18 games versus teams with current losing records. In addition to Tampa Bay and Detroit, they also play Oakland and Kansas City in this stretch.

The Orioles are certainly going to have to hit and pitch better than what we have seen so far. Through Sunday, they ranked 14th in the AL in batting average, OBP and starting rotation ERA. There is plenty of room for improvement. As they play teams with losing records, that will have to first prove that they should not belong in that class themselves.

As they play this upcoming schedule, will we finally begin to see that improvement?

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