In his three seasons with the Orioles, left-hander Richard Bleier is 8-1 with a 3.21 ERA. Last season, Bleier who was recovering from June 2018 lat surgery, had a strong September with a 2.93 ERA and two saves in 12 appearances with a 0.717 WHIP.
He spoke after reporting to the Orioles’ summer training on Wednesday. Players will be tested for Covid-19 before workouts begin on Friday. The interview has been edited for length.
Question: How strange was the whole testing experience?
Bleier: “It’s been so strange for so long that it’s like almost normal at this point. Just getting shut down early on and now coming back here. It’s already been months of just not normal life, so I think it’s just one more thing.
“I think when we actually get on the field, and all that stuff, it will be really be strange. Today was easier than a regular physical, honestly. Spit in a cup, and give some blood, so it was pretty simple.”
Q: You’re a real social person. How difficult do you think this is going to be, and how difficult has it been?
A: “We’ve done a good job as a team staying in touch, I think. We talk every day through messaging so it’s been nice to keep up with everyone and see the work they’re doing and just still stay in touch, knowing that we were going to get back to work at some point.
“At the field, we’re going to try to distance, but still we’re going to be around each other. There’s no doubt about it. We’re going to be sitting in proximity to each other at the games—even six feet, you can still talk to people, so I think we’ll be smart. We’re definitely going to be smart and cautious, but still we’ll be around enough so that I get my social fixes.”
Q: When spring training was shut down on March 12, could you have imagined that it would have been more than 3 ½ months until you resumed?
A: “I don’t remember what I thought, but I didn’t think it was going to be a week, either. Hey, if there cancelling spring training … it’s not like this happened five years ago, and it took this long. This never happened before.
“I had no idea. Even through this whole time, you’re trying to stay ready and focused. It’s a mental challenge because you just get to a point where you don’t even know if you’re going to play. It’s just going on and on, but the thing that was really important, if people just went home and kind of just ‘whatever, what else is going to happen?’ and not really stay active and now all of a sudden, we’re going to play 60 games, and you need to be ready and nobody’s going to care about any excuse that you have.
“These are major league games. It doesn’t matter what’s happened up until now because it’s happening.”
Q: As a reliever, was there a tendency to force yourself not to overthrow?
A: “Not at all. I wasn’t [not] pitching because of an injury. We would have been playing games so there is nothing I can do at my house to replicate a major league baseball game.
“Anything I’m doing is less than a workload than what I would have been doing if there weren’t this pandemic. You’re already backing off the workload. Even if you throw off a mound every single day, it’s still less than the stress of a major league game.
“I’ve been throwing to hitters for six weeks, working out, maybe not six weeks, but a while, a month maybe, trying to collect innings. There’s no working through things coming into camp. I can pitch in a game tomorrow. I fully believe that. That’s exactly what I wanted to be, coming into camp so that I have three more weeks of just ‘keep on, keeping on’ and roll into the season like it’s July, not like it’s the first week of the season. This is the time to go.”
Q: What are your biggest concerns? Do you have concerns about health?
A: “I think that we’re trying to be safe and cautious and be responsible because we want to start and finish a season. I don’t know about the health reasons. It seems like my age bracket  is probably not as affected as other age brackets, but we are around other people that are high-risk.
“What if I have a pre-existing condition that I don’t know about, and I find out in a very unfortunate way, like Trey [Mancini], for instance? He didn’t know about the cancer. He was overall, OK, and all of a sudden, had this terrible thing diagnosed.
“You just don’t know. We’re all going to be extremely cautious and with one goal in mind, and that’s to play baseball, to play a season and keep everybody safe.”
Q: Do you think that anything will be the same this season as it would be in a normal season?
A: “At the end of the year when they’re evaluating performances … the playoffs are the playoffs and the World Series is going to be the World Series. It’s going to be a shortened season, but everybody is playing the same amount of games under the same conditions with the same stuff.
“It’s a level playing field. There are no excuses going into the year, and when they’re evaluating people after the season, they’re not going to say, ‘this situation caused him to do this.’ They’re going to say, ‘he didn’t get the job done.’
“Everybody’s aware of that. These are regular major league games and we need to be ready for them.”