NEW YORK - The last visit for Richard Bleier at Yankee Stadium came on July 31 after his follow-up exam in the city. He provided a post-surgery update to the media and watched more teammates get traded at the non-waiver deadline, saying his goodbyes to pitcher Kevin Gausman and second baseman Jonathan Schoop.
No one knew whether Bleier would be back for opening day. Bleier had no idea. He could only follow the steps in his rehab and hope that the work and patience would get him on the 25-man roster.
Bleier didn’t get on the mound for yesterday’s opener, but he dressed in the clubhouse - no longer passing by - and sat in the bullpen.
He made it.
One of baseball’s most underrated relievers was active.
“With all the hard work that I put into this rehab process it’s a nice reward to be here for opening day,” he said. “That was always the goal, to be ready for opening day, so to make it happen is a good experience.”
It wasn’t until his spring debut that Bleier felt confident in his return.
“The first game I pitched in the spring where the stuff was the same, my arm strength was there for the most part,” he said. “It seemed like I was making pitches like I had before. That was the true test, I think, was just being able to go back out there and compete without thinking about protecting.”
Other teammates are gone now, including Adam Jones, whose locker at Yankee Stadium is occupied by Andrew Cashner. Bleier could be a trade chip later in the summer. It happens with teams in a rebuild.
“Yeah, but it’s just part of baseball, you know? People come and people go,” Bleier said.
“We’ll miss the guys that are gone and we’ll welcome the guys that are here. And I think we’re going to compete as well as we can and guys are going to go out there and try to win.”
* The Orioles fell behind yesterday four batters into Cashner’s start. They were held to two runs, their pitchers walked eight batters and hit another, Jonathan Villar ran into a ground ball, Chris Davis struck out three times and was replaced by Renato Núñez in the ninth inning, and catcher Jesús Sucre’s debut behind the plate included a passed ball and dropped pop up.
Those were some of the lowlights, which produced the Orioles’ fourth opening day loss since 2001. But the defense beyond Sucre’s mishaps was solid-to-spectacular, Trey Mancini had three hits and the sun is going to come out this morning.
I’ve seen the forecast.
“I saw some good things today,” Cashner said. “Joey Rickard made a nice play, Rio Ruiz made a nice play. I thought we swung the bats pretty decent against a really good pitcher. Got Richie Martin in there on a big double play. I think these young guys might surprise some people.”
* The big stage didn’t swallow up Martin, who continues to carry himself with a maturity and calmness that belies his Rule 5 status.
“Once I got on the field after the ceremony, I was pretty cool,” he said. “It was exciting. I had a good time. But obviously the result wasn’t what we wanted. But I think the first game, it went all right.
“Once I was out on the field, the only difference is it’s louder and there’s an extra layer of seats. But other than that it’s the same game.”
Martin noticed some big names wandering around the ballpark.
“It was awesome, all the star power here,” he said, allowing himself for a brief moment to slip into fan mode. “I think Joe Torre was here, Mariano Rivera. That’s what you can get in New York, so that was pretty cool.”
Manager Brandon Hyde has told Martin to concentrate on his defense. The glove will keep him in the lineup.
Is it easier to debut knowing that he can funnel his focus on one task?
“Yeah, he says focus on your defense, but I can’t go up there and just give at-bats away,” Martin said. “I have to be productive out of the nine hole. I know it’s the first day, but I’ve got to have better at-bats than that.
“Defense is obviously a priority, but I need to show what I can do on offense, also.”
* Mancini is 5-for-9 on opening day. He’s hit safely in 14 of his last 16 games at Yankee Stadium, going 25-for-69 (.362) with five doubles and two home runs.
Villar is 12-for-30 (.400) in seven career games at Yankee Stadium.
* The Orioles opened their season in the Bronx for only the second time in club history. It also happened on April 10, 1962, in a 7-6 loss.
* Random question: Does Orioles pitching prospect DL Hall have to change his name to IL?
* Infielder Engelb Vielma still hasn’t reported to the minor league complex in Twin Lakes Park.
Vielma, who appeared in six games last season, is having work visa issues in the Dominican Republic.
The Orioles designated Vielma for assignment on Nov. 20 and placed pitcher Dillon Tate on the 40-man roster. Vielma fractured his patella in May while playing for Triple-A Norfolk - he was chasing a foul ball and crashed into the railing - and underwent season-ending surgery.