SARASOTA, Fla.—Richard Bleier took a huge step forward when he threw his first live batting practice on Friday. Bleier faced hitters in an empty Ed Smith Stadium, and couldn’t have been happier.
Bleier, who hasn’t pitched in a game since June 13 when he suffered a lat injury that required season-ending surgery, threw 30 pitches.
“I’m very happy with how it went,” Bleier said. “It’s as good as it could have went. I felt great. I pitched very well. I made all my pitches. It was really good.”
Bleier, who was watched by manager Brandon Hyde, pitching coach Doug Brocail and bullpen coach John Wasdin, said he wanted to improve on his bullpen sessions, which were inconsistent.
“I just wanted to get in the zone and really execute pitches,” he said. “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 thought I did a good job of today. All the pitches that I threw, I felt like I made, except for three out of 30.”
Bleier said he threw his full arsenal.
“I threw fastball, changeup, cutters sliders. I threw pitches that I kind of got away from — changeups to lefties, sliders to righties,” he said. “I tried it all today, and it seemed to work well.”
Hyde was impressed.
“I think today was a great start,” Hyde said. “The ball was moving all over the place, so it was all positives there, for sure.”
Bleier said that he’s been scheduled for a game, but he won’t be pitching in the early Grapefruit League games.
At 31, and beginning his third season with the Orioles, Bleier is one of the most senior members of the team, and he’s noticing changes this year.
“It’s definitely a different atmosphere,” Bleier said. “Obviously, it’s a whole new staff, and it’s a newer team — newer, younger team. It’s a good mix. With the new GM [Mike Elias], and the new manager, and the new staff, I feel like we’re in this together — just trying to figure out how this process is going to work out for everyone as well as it can.”
Bleier has a 5-1 record and a 1.97 ERA in 88 games with the Orioles, who acquired from the New York Yankees just over two years ago on Feb. 21, 2017. He didn’t debut in the majors until he was 29, in May 2016.
“His path to the big leagues was a unique one, a little bit,” Hyde said. “He’s just worked his rear off to get to where he is. He’s had so much success in the big leagues the last year and a half, two years. I’m really happy for him. He’s figured something out. It’s obviously beneficial for us.”
Bleier was drafted by Texas and before making it to the majors with the Yankees, he had also been in the Toronto and Washington organizations. He’s intrigued by the new staff.
“I’ve been around for a while, so I’ve had a lot of different pitching coaches, so it’s always interesting to see,” Bleier said. “A lot of people tell you the same thing, but if they tell you it differently…it’s the wording that kind of sticks with people. It’s how the message is presented…two pitching coaches could be trying to say the same thing. It’s how it comes across.”
He’s hoping that Brocail can make some suggestions. Bleier knows what he’s looking for.
“The things that I do well and don’t do well and how I can improve them, just to hear how he has to say it,” he said. “I’m not saying it didn’t make sense before. It’s like a different look that I think is good.”
A year ago, Bleier was on a staff that included veterans such as Brad Brach, Zack Britton and Darren O’Day. It included Mychal Givens, who’s beginning his fifth season with the Orioles.
Now, it’s just Bleier and Givens remaining among the veterans.
“Even last year, the beginning of the year, I was carrying the bag as a rookie, the bullpen bag,” Bleier said. “Now, all of a sudden, I’m the oldest one in the bullpen. It’s going to be different moving forward. It’s a great opportunity for me, and everyone else, and it’s a role that I’ll do as well as I can, and try and help guys out knowing that I’m one of the longest tenured out there.”