Beyond the ground balls he can induce and the outs he can coax in the late innings, especially versus left-handed hitters, Orioles reliever Richard Bleier also has become a leader in a bullpen that tends to attract inexperienced pitchers trying to become established major leaguers.
Bleier just completed his fourth season, though he appeared in only 23 games as a rookie with the Yankees in 2016 and 31 with the Orioles in 2018 before undergoing lat surgery. He’s become a go-to guy both on and off the field.
It’s similar to what’s happening with outfielder Trey Mancini, who’s been fielding questions about 401Ks as if he’s a grizzled veteran. The perception changes as the average age drops.
“As far as the young guys, it’s interesting because it just happened so fast,” Bleier said Thursday night on the “Orioles Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan.
“I was talking to Darren O’Day and (Zack) Britton and (Brad) Brach and then all of a sudden guys are coming up to me asking all kinds of questions I was asking months ago. But it’s been fun and it’s a really good group.
“It’s nice to see the young guys because they want to establish themselves just like everybody else and they’re out there trying hard like everybody else. They’re hungry and it’s been fun to see. Just seeing those guys pitch and work out of struggles and bounce back, it’s been fun.”
Bleier is hoping to stick around and keep offering advice as it’s needed, but he won’t know for sure until the Dec. 2 deadline for tendering contracts to arbitration-eligible players.
Mychal Givens broke into the majors back in 2015, making him a graybeard on the team, but the Orioles could trade him if the right offer comes along - though he’s under team control until eligible for free agency in 2022 and that lessens the urgency. Bleier is a natural successor to the past leaders that he mentioned, and it’s an important role with Hunter Harvey expected to inherit the high-leverage situations and Dillon Tate vying for a spot.
Bleier, who turns 33 in April, is a pitch-to-contact reliever who puts runners on base and can leave them there.
“My biggest thing, and what I try to tell the young pitchers, especially the relievers, is your inning is defined by one pitch in my opinion,” Bleier said.
“You can give up a leadoff double and you can work to two outs, a runner on third, and you get that guy to two strikes, and you know if you make this changeup, he is going to get out 10 out of 10 times. And you overthrow it or do something and it’s a non-competitive ball and then you give in with a fastball the next pitch and it’s a base hit and you give up a run, that changeup was the pitch you had to make. And you know that if you executed that pitch, he’s out 10 out of 10 times and you put up a zero. And then the fact that you didn’t make that pitch cost you a run.
“That’s how I would look at it and I feel like it’s easy to look back on an inning and say this is the pitch that I needed to make and it would have gone completely different. But to realize that when you’re in the game is different. Make this pitch, he’s out and I’m in the dugout with a zero and I did my job.”
Bleier didn’t do it at the same level this season, whether due to the recovery process from his lat surgery in June 2018 or the shoulder tendinitis this year that cost him more than a month. He posted career highs with a 5.37 ERA and 1.319 WHIP in 55 1/3 innings, but was better in the second half.
“It’s weird,” he said. “There were pitches I threw, and I can pull up video of me throwing these same pitches in the same locations and consistently getting outs and now they’re not outs anymore. And what is it? Am I never going to be the same? Am I just not the same right now? It was very stressful to go through that process, but I’m not the only one. If it were easy everybody would do it.
“I don’t know. I just feel like I’m better for it, I guess, and I feel like I’m the same now as I was before, which I’m happy about. But yeah, during the first month of the season, the first couple months and all before that, just the whole rehab process, anybody who’s dealt with a major arm injury knows that it’s not much fun.”