A veteran sportswriter taught me a long time ago, shortly after I joined the Orioles beat as a wide-eyed and fresh-faced reporter, that you should never downplay or underwrite an injury. Better to err on the side of hysteria.
It’s much easier to tone it down later - the pain turned out to be nothing more than cramping - than treat trauma as a tweak and look like a fool when the player goes on the 60-day disabled list.
With this in mind, I won’t soften what happened to Richard Bleier yesterday in the eighth inning. He didn’t blow out his elbow as I initially thought after jumping off the mound and grabbing his arm, but today’s MRI is likely to reveal some level of strain to the latissimus dorsi muscle that sidelines him for an extended period.
This isn’t going to be a 10-day DL stint where he’s ready when allowed to return. Bleier’s facial expressions as he waited for assistance on the mound and walked to the clubhouse told the story. It was more than just the pain.
Chris Lee provides the unfortunate blueprint with his lat injury in 2016 while pitching for Double-A Bowie. It ruined his season. There wasn’t a speedy recovery.
A sense of relief was felt yesterday because Bleier’s injury didn’t involve his elbow. He isn’t looking at Tommy John surgery, which was the immediate assumption on Twitter after he came out of the game. Sympathy posts already were being penned. But no one in the organization is celebrating a lat injury.
Quite the opposite reaction.
As if the Orioles could be anymore challenged this season. They’ve lost a reliever that they trusted in any situation, who lowered his ERA to 1.93 yesterday, who led the team in appearances and who won’t be seamlessly replaced.
Donnie Hart could do a U-turn and head back from Triple-A Norfolk. Tanner Scott could be recalled, since it made little sense to option him other than the bullpen lacking flexibility. But there’s going to be a noticeable drop-off from Bleier.
And just when the bullpen finally was getting back to full strength with the returns of O’Day and Zach Britton. The Orioles were counting on it, but the game giveth and it taketh away.
“I knew they were, especially in that situation where Brad (Brach) had to come in and Mike (Givens) had to throw, as well,” Bleier said. “I knew they wanted me to get through that inning, so for the other guys, it’s tough. Thankfully, we have an off-day (today), so it will kind of give everybody a chance to regroup, but it’s obviously not good for everyone and everything’s kind of not going well, so it kind of just compounds that.”
Manager Buck Showalter has wanted to get back to an eight-man bullpen, though the strain of a short bench can hurt. Could they option David Hess and call up two relievers, with off-days today and Monday allowing them to work with a four-man rotation?
It should have been done yesterday if the possibility exists.
Britton is going to be the lone left-hander in the bullpen and he doesn’t really count if he goes back to the closer role. Bleier will be replaced by another southpaw and the Orioles can decide, if motivated to carry an eighth reliever, whether to add a third lefty, recall Jimmy Yacabonis or perhaps shift Yefry Ramirez into the bullpen. But Ramirez threw 97 pitches yesterday and will be down for a while.
The Orioles are scrambling again to patch a sizeable hole. Bleier was that important to the club, one of executive vice president Dan Duquette’s finest under-the-radar acquisitions.
Britton is another example of how it’s safer to assume the worst. His Achilles surgery led to projections of a post All-Star break return. We heard his optimism about coming back by May 28 or shortly thereafter, but reports kept hammering away at a late-July timetable as the earliest. Just in case.
There’s no reason to feel optimistic about Bleier’s situation. Let the MRI prove otherwise. Let him fool us all and get back within a few weeks.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to assume the worst.