Richard Bleier’s strong season might have ended Wednesday afternoon when the left-handed reliever exited abruptly in the eighth inning of the Orioles’ 5-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox with the makings of a left lat injury.
Bleier’s outing ended after just five pitches. He entered the game with two outs in the seventh inning and recorded a quick third out. After throwing his first pitch of the eighth inning, he hopped off the mound in pain, crouching over while Eduardo Núñez grounded out to second.
Manager Buck Showalter and athletic trainer Mark Spires came out of the dugout to attend to Bleier, who clutched his side under his throwing arm while he walked off the field.
“I just saw him,” Showalter said after Wednesday’s game. “It’s got the characteristics of a lat, so we’ll see. Hope for the best. Obviously, he was in a lot of discomfort, so we’ll see. He never had anything like that before. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him for very long. He was pretty down as you can imagine.”
Bleier said he planned to have an MRI on Thursday.
“I just felt something in the lat area, or whatever. Obviously it was unpleasant,” Bleier said. “Just, I don’t know, That’s pretty much it, yeah. … Obviously, any injury is not good. To get to the point where there was no question I couldn’t make another pitch, that’s obviously not good.”
Injuries to the latissimus dorsi, a large extensor muscle, can take months to heal. Orioles farmhand Chris Lee suffered a lat strain in late-May 2016 that cost him the rest of his season.
Bleier, who has become a valuable member of the bullpen the past two years since the Orioles acquired him in a minor trade with the New York Yankees before the 2017 season, entered Wednesday’s game with a 1.97 ERA in 32 innings this season.
“We’ll see,” Showalter said. “I’m not going to make any diagnosis. It could be something completely different than what any of us are thinking. It’s just real unfortunate. Richard has been a good pitcher for us. Regardless if he’s been good or not, it’s unfortunate.”
Bleier entered Wednesday leading all Orioles relievers this season with a 0.8 WAR, according to FanGraphs. He opened the season having allowed just one earned run over his first 17 appearances spanning 22 2/3 innings for a 0.40 ERA. Over his past 13 outings, he’s had a 5.79 ERA in 13 appearances spanning 9 1/3 innings.
The bullpen reached full strength for this first time this season this week, getting back closer Zach Britton, who had missed the entire year recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, and setup man Darren O’Day from the disabled list. In the absence of those two important late-inning arms, Bleier earned more high-leverage relief opportunities. And has often been the case this season, Bleier was depended on to get outs in two separate innings Wednesday.
“Obviously I knew they were [counting on me], especially in that situation where Brad [Brach] had to come in and [Mychal Givens] had to throw as well,” Bleier said. “I knew they wanted me to get through that inning, so, for the other guys, it’s tough. Thankfully, we have an off day tomorrow, so it will kind of give everybody a chance to regroup, but it’s obviously not good for everyone and everything’s kind of not going well, so it kind of just compounds that.”