SARASOTA, Fla. - Richard Bleier made it through his second bullpen session yesterday morning as the sun finally managed to pierce the clouds that suggested rain might be headed to the Ed Smith Stadium complex. The heat was turned up. The kind that doesn’t require a radar gun to confirm.
Bleier doesn’t really care about the temperature or whether the sky is blue. He’s in camp on a new contract - settling at $915,000 in December to avoid arbitration - and no longer a health riddle.
He’s making the opening day roster again, but without the concerns.
The 2018 lat surgery is much deeper in his past. The sore shoulder that landed him on the injured list in April also is history.
“It’s just like pre-injury regular spring training camp for me, just coming in and getting ready for a season,” he said. “We have a few new coaches and just try to pick up where I left off in September as opposed to just trying to get healthy. I’m ready to go and just looking forward to getting ready for the season.”
Bleier posted a 7.27 ERA and 1.500 WHIP in 24 appearances in the first half and a 3.68 ERA and 1.159 WHIP in 29 games after the break. He allowed five runs with only two walks in 15 1/3 innings in September.
There were the occasional ground balls that found holes in a shifted infield, which infuriated Bleier, but overall he had much better results and again became a trustworthy reliever for a team always searching for one.
Bleier’s 5.37 ERA marked the first time in four major league seasons that it came in above 2.00.
“It’s definitely tough, and I’m not the first person to have an injury and deal with struggles like that post-injury, where you’re like, ‘What’s going on? Why are things not going the way they were before?’” Bleier said.
“You’re just not back to normal for a little bit longer. And it’s funny because the surgeon said nine months game-ready and a year until you’ll feel like you’re kind of back. And about a year at the break in the second half I was making pitches and getting results on those pitches that I’m used to getting, for the most part.
“So yeah, it’s just a time thing and it’s frustrating because I’m impatient. I’m like, ‘Come on, let’s go. Anytime now.’ But hopefully I come out on the other side stronger and better and move past it.”
Manager Brandon Hyde is counting on it.
“You got quick glimpses of what Richard was the last month or two, of what kind of bullpen arm he was a couple years prior, before he got hurt,” Hyde said. “So to have him break healthy with us and the ability to get right-handers and left-handers out and have a guy down there who’s done it before, I think it’s going to be huge for us.”
The Orioles had the worst bullpen ERA in the American League at 5.63 and the second-highest batting average against in the majors at .271. A full and healthy season from Bleier would give them a better chance for improvement, though they also need a few of their shuttle guys to gain consistency and become established major leaguers.
The unit has some intriguing options in the later innings with Hunter Harvey likely to break camp with the team and Dillon Tate also in the mix. Mychal Givens could be more effective if used in the seventh and eighth, or perhaps he seizes a closing opportunity if it’s presented again.
Bleier sees the potential. Now it’s just about getting results.
“Absolutely,” he said. “And there’s no doubt about it, we have the talent to be the same kind of bullpen that Orioles fans are used to seeing. (Shawn) Armstrong and (Miguel) Castro, both of those guys have really good stuff. And then (Paul) Fry and Tanner Scott. The talent is definitely there and it’s just a matter of having everybody put it together for an entire season.
“It’s such a long season and you see that every single one of the guys, even the guys coming up and down, are showing flashes of, ‘Oh OK, that’s why they’re here.’ And it’s just consistently doing it night in and night out. Including myself.”