The Orioles have likely lost left-handed reliever Richard Bleier for the remainder of the year with a severe left lat muscle tear that could also affect his availability for the start of the 2019 season, manager Buck Showalter said Friday.
Bleier, whose performance marked one of the few bright spots in the team’s bygone season, left in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, hopping off the mound in obvious pain while holding his left side. He had an MRI on Thursday’s day off. Showalter wouldn’t reveal the grade of Bleier’s tear, but indicated surgery is a likely option.
“I don’t expect him to play again this year,” Showalter said. “That’s one I really hope I’m wrong on, but from what everybody is indicating, the worst-case scenario [is a possibility]. The worst case is it’s a Grade 3 and he returns sometimes next season.”
The Orioles placed Bleier, 31, on the disabled list before Friday’s interleague series opener against the Miami Marlins, officially calling the injury a left lat strain. Left-hander Tanner Scott, who was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk in a corresponding move, will take Bleier’s spot in the bullpen.
Bleier emerged as one of the Orioles’ most dependable relievers over the first six weeks of the season, posting a 0.40 ERA in his first 17 appearances spanning 22 2/3 innings while holding opposing hitters to a .225 average.
Even after some hiccups over the past month, Bleier still had a 1.93 ERA and his 0.8 WAR (wins above replacement) tied for sixth among American League relievers, according to FanGraphs.
After spending nine seasons in the minor leagues, Bleier received his first real big league opportunity last season with the Orioles, who acquired him from the New York Yankees in February 2017. He posted a 1.99 ERA in 63 1/3 innings last season while being used both situationally and to cover multiple innings, and he carried that success into this season.
“It’s tough on Richard,” Showalter said. “This is the first time he’s really established himself. I told him, ‘The good news is that you’ve established yourself. There’s going to be a job there for you when you come back and this is something that they can repair. You’ll be able to pay the bills while you’re inactive. Just think about if it was the other way around and you had done this in the minor leagues and you weren’t established in the big leagues.’
“I tried to give him the positive side, because there is a lot. We’d love to have him back. I’d like to have him pitching. But it’s been fun to watch him take the opportunity he was given and the responsibility that has been added to his role and him run with it.”
On his first pitch of the eighth inning Wednesday – a ball that resulted in a ground out off the bat of Eduardo Núñez – Bleier hopped off the mound and crouched over in pain before he left.
Showalter said a specialist saw the MRI results Thursday, but Bleier — who remains in Baltimore — has yet to decide whether he will undergo surgery.
“It’s pretty obvious what it is,” Showalter said. “It’s a lat and there are three different grades of that — 1, 2 and 3, with 3 being the worst — and I’m not going to get into what they think it is until the doc sees it again. He’s already seen the test. … I think Richard is the one who will make the final decision, obviously, but there is the potential for surgery on it. I can tell you that.”
Showalter also indicated Bleier might not be ready by the beginning of next season.
“I said he’d be back next year,” Showalter said. “I’m not going to get into exactly when. You may get one kind of gloom and doom, paint the worst-case scenario and another one paints it too positive. I’ll say this. I have a ton of confidence in [head athletic trainer] Brian Ebel and his staff and what they’ve been able to do with guys, so I think Richard will be a pitcher, a guy at the earliest time you could come back from that.
Scott, 23, returns after being optioned to Norfolk on Saturday to make space for reliever Darren O’Day, but he can return before serving the required 10 days in the minors following an option because he is returning as part of a corresponding DL move.