Amid a season that has begun with disappointment, struggle and doubt, one positive stands out to Orioles left-hander Richard Bleier when it comes to his physical health.
“My arm's still attached,” Bleier said. “So that's a good thing.”
Coming off surgery to repair a torn lat muscle that cost him the final three months of last season, Bleier is still trying to rediscover the effectiveness that allowed him to post an ERA+ of 220 through his first three major league seasons.
Bleier allowed runs in three of his first four outings this season, capped by four in 1 1/3 innings in Tuesday night’s loss to the Oakland Athletics. With a 14.54 ERA, Bleier has a hard-hit rate of 72.2 percent, the third highest of any pitcher to have at least five batted balls against them, per Statcast data. In 2018, Bleier’s “barrel” rate among pitchers who allowed at least 100 balls put in play was the 11th best in baseball.
“This time last year, I felt completely different,” Bleier said. “There's definitely still dealing with issues from the surgery, I would say."
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has tried to be patient with Bleier’s progress and not overwork him in his return from surgery. Before Wednesday’s game, Hyde suggested the team might to give Bleier, 31, a “reset” by placing him on the injured list.
“He's just not getting the shape on the pitches that he's used to,” Hyde said. “I've had a lot of conversations with him the last few days. He's disappointed in his start, and credit to him in that he's come off a major injury and is ahead of schedule, and I know that we've been patient with him and I feel really good about how we've treated him since spring training with allowing a lot of recovery time and that sort of thing.
“He was pushing the fast-forward button a little bit, too. He really wanted to break with our club. He wanted to be on this team, and I think getting off to the start that he's gotten off to, he's just disappointed in that the stuff of his pitches isn't acting like it normally used to act.”
Bleier said his cutter is “fine” and his changeup is actually improved. The average velocity and spin rate of Bleier’s sinker, his primary pitch, are in line with his career averages, but the pitch’s horizontal and vertical movement is down compared with years past, per brooksbaseball.net.
“I don't think that's abnormal for somebody coming off of injury, not having the stuff look like what it did before,” Hyde said. “I think Rich is just pretty frustrated by it and not getting the ground balls that he's normally getting, giving up fastball homers, which he really hasn't done in the past, and not recovering normally after an outing like he has in the past, so there's some frustration there, but we're gonna stay behind him and try to treat him — I just want to be patient with him because Rich is gonna be a big part of this club. I wanna do the right thing for him."
Despite Hyde’s suggestion that rest and injury list stint could be what proves best for Bleier’s health, Bleier was adamant that more outings on the mound will serve him well.
"I don't think rest will do me good, no,” Bleier said. “It's just good days and bad days, so it's really hard to gauge. You could ask anybody who's had major surgery, it's definitely a constant battle.
“I'm not getting better not pitching, so it's like a catch-22."
Rogers ready to contribute out of bullpen
When left-hander Josh Rogers was told he was being scratched from the first game of Triple-A Norfolk’s Tuesday doubleheader in Charlotte, N.C., he figured it might have something to do with the rainy weather’s possible impact on his outing.
Instead, he was informed that he was heading to Baltimore, where Wednesday night he will pitch behind right-hander Dan Straily, who will have somewhat of a short leash in his first start with the Orioles. Straily threw 44 pitches Sunday and before that hadn’t pitched in a competitive game in about two weeks.
Rogers, acquired in last summer’s Zack Britton trade with the New York Yankees, hasn’t pitched in relief in an official game since his first professional season in 2015, but he did so seven times during spring training. Hyde said there’s a “good shot” Rogers, who made three late-season starts with Baltimore last season, appears Wednesday.
“I think I'll be fine with it,” Rogers said. “Doing it during spring training definitely will help 'cause I'd never been out of the bullpen before, but getting those outings in spring will definitely benefit, I think, and roll over into today."
Right-hander Alex Cobb, whose placement on the 10-day injured list Tuesday was backdated to Saturday, has a “good shot” to start immediately once he’s eligible to come off the IL, Hyde said.