SARASOTA, Fla. - The wait is over for Richard Bleier. So, too, are the requests for updates on his recovery from lat surgery and progress toward getting back on a mound.
Bleier made his spring debut tonight by starting the top of the fifth inning against the Yankees. He allowed three runs - only one earned - and three hits with one strikeout. Manager Brandon Hyde removed him at 19 pitches, including 15 strikes, with a runner on first base and two outs.
Two soft doubles poked to right field. A throwing error by third baseman Renato Núñez. A bad-hop infield single.
You had to be watching to understand that the final numbers were deceiving.
The first three batters reached when Gio Urshela slapped a double into right field on an 0-2 pitch, Núñez committed his fourth spring error and Billy Burns reached out and poked a double down the right field line to score Trey Amburgey.
Tyler Wade struck out on three pitches and Gleyber Torres flied to right, but Gary Sánchez’s bouncer to the left side took a wicked bounce past Núñez and around shortstop Richie Martin to give the Yankees a 5-0 lead.
“I felt great,” Bleier said. “I felt like the ball was coming out of my hand really well, I executed almost all my pitches, other than the first double. Even the second one, he kind of stuck his bat out. My fastball was good, my cutter was good. That’s pretty much all that matters, honestly. The rest of the stuff is just a bonus.
“I’m extremely happy with that. I know the results weren’t quite what I wanted, but I’ll take the small victories at this point. It’s been a while.”
It has been a long road back for Bleier after undergoing surgery in June. A night game in the Grapefruit League seemed like paradise.
“I was really pumped,” he said. “It honestly felt like my debut in ‘16. I was pretty pumped up to get back on the mound, so that was fun. I think after the first pitch it was like, ‘All right, my arm’s still attached to my body. Now it’s time to get ready for the season.’”
How many innings does Bleier need? Apparently, not a whole lot.
“Honestly, and I know you guys aren’t going to like this answer, but I feel ready now,” he said. “I executed almost all of my pitches. I think it’s just a matter of refining it. I think eight-ish maybe. I don’t know. I feel great right now. I’m pretty excited where I’m at.”
A spring training mound sure beats the one he walked away from on June 13 at Camden Yards, which led to the surgery and incremental advancements toward tonight’s outing.
“I think part of the rehab process is just, you have to throw to feel good, but you don’t feel good when you first start throwing, so it’s just throwing through pain while things are readjusting to the surgery,” Bleier said.
“So that was pretty terrible there for a little bit, honestly. And then one day it was like one day to the next where it was like, ‘Oh wow, it just loosened up and now it feels a lot better.’ And then from there the progression from the mound work to the live BPs went pretty smoothly. It was just that initial start.”
David Hess retired nine batters in a row after Wade’s leadoff double in the first, which led to a run on fly balls to center field by Torres and Sánchez. Torres led off the fourth with a double to break the streak, Cedric Mullins ran down Sánchez’s liner in left-center field and Greg Bird singled to give New York a 2-0 lead.
Hess threw 63 pitches in 3 1/3 innings, including 10 to Amburgey leading off the third that resulted in a tapper in front of the plate. Forty-four were strikes. He allowed two runs and three hits with no walks and three strikeouts.
Matt Wotherspoon recorded the last two outs to strand Bird and Bleier began to warm.
The nine straight batters retired mimicked what he did in his previous outing, except he faced only nine that day.
“I think there were good things to take away from it,” Hess said. “Anytime you lead off the game with a double like that and limit it to one run, that’s a good way to go about that. But I think there were a lot positives to build off and some things to work on, as well. Me and Broc (Doug Brocail) talked about it and we’re looking forward to getting back to work in a couple days.”
Hess has totaled 10 1/3 innings this spring and allowed four runs and nine hits with two walks and seven strikeouts. He remains in the hunt for the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation.
“I feel good,” he said. “Really, the ultimate goal is to put yourself in the best position to make the club, so really just coming in each day and trying to get better, and ultimately I think I am where I want to be right now. I think there are a lot of talented guys here that are doing the exact same, so there’s a lot of competition, but it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve really enjoyed it, so looking forward to keep going with it.”
Luis Cessa retired the first 11 batters he faced before Chance Sisco’s single into right-center field.
Final Update: J.C. Escarra hit a solo home run to right field in the bottom of the ninth to end the shut out. Yankees win 6-1.
Hyde on Bleier: “Mission accomplished. He came off the mound feeling healthy, his stuff was moving all over the place. The one left-hander he faced, obviously had a lot of success. No. 1, got through it, feels great after. Two, his stuff was really good. Just had some unfortunate things happen, but the bottom line was that he threw 20-ish pitches and threw the ball really well, so it’s great.”
Hyde on Hess: “I thought Hess was really good. Hess has been good all spring. Got really nice life and hop to his fastball and his off-speed stuff he was throwing for strikes. I just thought he threw the ball really, really well. He competes and he’s a bulldog out there and I like the way he competes and I like his stuff.”