SARASOTA - Richard Bleier has no idea when he’s going to pitch in an exhibition game. The euphoria he felt after today’s live batting practice session should carry him for a while.
Facing hitters for the first time since June 13, prior to his lat surgery, Bleier broke out his entire arsenal and reported no discomfort or noticeable rust.
“I’m very happy with how it went,” he said. “Honestly, it was as good as it could have went. I felt great. I pitched very well. I made all my pitches. It was really good.
“Just with the way the bullpens have been going, they’ve been a little inconsistent, so I just wanted to get in a zone and really execute pitches because I’m not going to go out there and out-stuff guys, obviously. I need to make my pitches and mix and match, which I felt like I did a good job of today. All the pitches that I threw I felt like I made except maybe three of 30, so I was pretty happy with that.”
As Bleier stood on the mound at Ed Smith Stadium, the gathering behind the protective screen included pitching coach Doug Brocail, bullpen coach John Wasdin, and pitchers Dylan Bundy, Dillon Tate and Branden Kline. The group of hitters included Andrew Susac, Cedric Mullins, Jace Peterson and Eric Young Jr.
“I threw everything. I threw fastball, changeup, cutters, sliders,” Bleier said. “I threw pitches that I kind of got away from - changeups to lefties, sliders to righties. I tried it all today and it seemed to all work well.”
So what’s next for Bleier as the Orioles prepare for Saturday’s first exhibition game against the Twins in Sarasota?
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s definitely scheduled. I haven’t looked at it recently, honestly. I think a couple more BPs and maybe a sim game and then a real game. After today, they’re going to want to take it slower with me, but I think that I’m ready to compete.
“It felt great to be really back out there, honestly. It was really exciting. I was like, ‘Man, I’m pretty pumped up for a completely empty stadium minus you guys and this early in the year.’ And to make the pitches I did, it’s definitely a good feeling.”
Bleier turns 32 in April, is preparing for his third season with the Orioles and is one of the remaining veterans on a rebuilding team. The last time that he pitched, his teammates included relievers Zack Britton, Brad Brach and Darren O’Day.
“Even last year, at the beginning of the year, I was carrying the bullpen bag as a rookie still, and now all of a sudden I’m the oldest one in the bullpen, so, yeah, obviously it’s been different,” Bleier said.
“It’s going to be different moving forward, but it’s a great opportunity for me and everyone else and it’s a (leadership) role that I’ll do as well as I can and try to help guys out knowing I’m one of the longest tenured out there. See how it goes.”
The changes are everywhere. In the offices, on the spring training fields and inside the clubhouse.
“I’m sure you guys see it, too,” Bleier said. “It’s definitely a different atmosphere. I think obviously it’s a whole new staff and it’s a newer, younger team. It’s a good mix. With the new GM and the new manager and all the new staff, I feel like we’re kind of in this together. Trying to figure out how this process is going to work out for everyone as well as it can.”
Alex Cobb threw two rounds of live batting practice, with Bleier working in between.
“He looks good, but he’s the hardest person on himself,” said catcher Austin Wynns. “He’s a perfectionist. But he’ll be fine. He definitely got his reps in and he’ll be fine. We’ll see him on the golf course today.”
* David Hess will start Sunday’s game against the Blue Jays in Sarasota. The first road game is Monday against the Twins in Fort Myers.
* Manager Brandon Hyde might endorse having some pitches called from the dugout this season, but not necessarily in exhibition games.
“Definitely in spring training, I give the catchers a huge leash and I want them to run the game, I want them to be the leaders on the field,” he said. “We can always tone things back, we can always do certain things from the dugout, but in spring training I really want them to take ownership of the position. Something I’ve always believed in. And then as spring training goes along, then we start implementing some more things possibly.
“I just want to see how they work a little bit. As we go along there might be some things here and there that we put in for them, where they look in for help in certain situations.”
* Former manager Buck Showalter used to avoid pitching his starters against division opponents in exhibition games, assigning them to the back fields, Twin Lakes Park and in B games. Will Hyde do the same?
“I’m going to talk to potential starters about the possibility of pitching on a back field or facing teams,” he said. “I don’t want a team to see them too much for sure, but I also want them to get game experience, so that’s one of those tricky things where you want them to pitch in a big league stadium and you want them to have the feeling of what it’s like, but at the same time I don’t want to expose one of our guys to them too many times, so it’s a balance there.”
* Former Orioles first baseman Boog Powell is throwing out the ceremonial first pitch on Saturday. His barbeque stand, run by his son J.W., will be operating in the left field pavilion. Follow the smoke.
“It just seemed like a natural thing to do,” he said. “We had been trying to come to spring training since the first year I opened at Camden Yards back in ‘92, and of course, when they did the remodel down here, Janet Marie Smith and I had plans to do it. Somewhere along the line they got sidelined and we didn’t discuss it too much farther than that. We just kept doing what we were doing in Baltimore and put it on hold.”
The idea came up again last year during a conversation with executive vice president John Angelos. Powell decided to find out “if we can take our stuff on the road.”
Seemed like the obvious next move.
“Here we are,” Powell said after father and son delivered food to the media workroom.
Roast beef, turkey and pulled pork, with baked beans - I won’t reveal the secret ingredient that makes them amazing - and coleslaw that absolutely must be put on the sandwich or you’re doing it wrong.
Powell had no idea that his barbeque stand would become such a hit at Camden Yards.
“Only thing I knew for sure is I couldn’t hit anymore, the Miller Brewing Company didn’t want me anymore,” he said. “I was doing appearances for them for like 13 years and that pretty much had come to an end. I said, ‘I’ve got to get a job.’ I hate to use the cliché of reinventing myself, but I’ve been doing this my whole life and it was really all I knew how to do.”
The stand moved from the bullpen area in 1992 to Eutaw Street after a spot opened up for it. Powell wanted fans to have better access to him.
The rest is barbeque history.
“I think that, coupled with the fact that I was there every day and I signed autographs every day and I was nice to people every day and I welcomed them to the ballpark, regardless of how the team was doing. By the way, that was a tough job last year.
“That’s what I did and that’s who I am.”
Alex Cobb throws to Austin Wynns during Orioles spring training in Sarasota, Fla.
Sprinklers went off while the Orioles were stretching before Friday’s workout.
Dillon Tate, acquired in last summer’s Zack Britton trade, is in his first camp with the O’s.