Orioles lefty Richard Bleier finding success being unapologetically himself

Everybody wins when Richard Bleier jogs in from the bullpen, at least where the Orioles are concerned.

Manager Buck Showalter gets the services of as reliable a reliever as he's had all year. The position players get a quick, efficient pitcher to work behind and are back in the batter's box in mere minutes. Bleier gets to spend another day in the big leagues, a dream he had given up on long ago. And the relievers left in the bullpen get a few hours of peace and quiet.


At age 30, in his first extended major league opportunity, Bleier is taking the chance to be fully, unapologetically himself.

That means throwing 90 mph sinkers and cutters down the middle of the plate and entering Friday with a 1.34 ERA; it means maintaining a constant conversation in the bullpen that sometimes requires him to be put in timeout for a few innings; and it means explaining how someone lives for three decades without drinking anything but milk and water.

Richard Bleier probably will remain in a middle relief role.

Why bother changing? Bleier, a left-hander with nearly 1,000 career minor league innings on his ledger, acknowledges that "pretty much every day that I'm here is one more day than I thought I'd be in the big leagues."

"Good or bad, it's one more day than I thought I'd be here," he said. "I don't put pressure on myself anymore. ... I think that's the only way to look at it, really. Not many people can say they have this opportunity, and I just want to take full advantage of it.

"When I first got to the big leagues [in 2016], I just wanted to do the right thing and the rookie stuff, all that. I just wanted to do whatever I needed to do to kind of fit in. Then it got to the point where I said, 'I'm going to be myself and whatever happens, happens.'"

That sentiment seems to have infected every aspect of Bleier's life, but only after learning the hard realities of baseball in a minor league career that spanned far longer than one should.

The Texas Rangers drafted him out of Florida Gulf Coast in 2008 and stuck him in the Double-A Texas League for four years. The Toronto Blue Jays took him in the minor league Rule 5 draft and had him for a year before he signed as a minor league free agent with the Washington Nationals.

A good year in their high minors gave him plenty of options for 2016, and he chose to sign with the New York Yankees, who gave him his major league debut on May 30 last season and saw him post a 1.96 ERA out of their bullpen. His last outing was a scoreless inning against the Orioles on the final day of the regular season.

"We were really impressed when he pitched against us in New York late in the season," executive vice president Dan Duquette said.

That outing piqued interest among the Orioles' advance scouts and front office. Ben Werthan and Mike Silverman, both advance scouts, advocated for Bleier when he became available in the spring, Showalter said.

So the Orioles acquired him from the Yankees during spring training as part of a remaking of their left-handed pitching stocks. He sat in a corner locker next to a fridge full of bottled water, and insisted on serving anyone who came looking for one instead of having them grab their own.

Bleier began the season at Triple-A Norfolk and made his Orioles debut after Kevin Gausman's second-inning ejection on May 3 in Boston. A trip back to Norfolk followed, but once he returned to the Orioles on May 14, he never went back.

"I feel like we've had some stories like that over the years," closer Zach Britton said. "You get some guys who you kind of don't know why they didn't get the opportunity with the team they got him from, and they run with it. He was filling in in a time of need for us and came up and he didn't just pitch well; he pretty much dominated in the role that we needed."

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Bleier understands there's fortune involved in his run with the Orioles — he rejoined the bullpen for a second time around the time they went from a six-man bullpen to a seven-man outfit, and he never gave them a chance to send him out.


"You think that if you keep coming back and keep doing well, when they're looking for someone to stay, it's you and you've pitched well enough to be that guy," Bleier said.

He has, and to hear the rest of the relievers tell it, he has settled in quickly.

Right-hander Darren O'Day didn't get much of a chance to get to know Bleier this spring after the trade. That lack of familiarity didn't last long.

"We share an interest in fishing, down in Florida, specifically in-shore saltwater fishing," O'Day said. "But that's about all we talked about in camp. I didn't get to know him at all until he came up, and now I've gotten to know him pretty quickly because he talks a lot."

Said left-hander Donnie Hart: "I don't know if it's a nervous habit that he has, but whenever the game gets going, he gets a little excited and just starts talking more — I don't know what it is."

Britton said the bullpen's standard for discourse is "anybody who can make Brad [Brach] laugh is OK by us." Brach, while serious, rejects the notion that he's without humor, but said Bleier "doesn't know when to be quiet at times, and sometimes that makes me laugh."

"He's inquisitive, that's for sure," Brach said. "He has a lot to say. He has a lot of questions to ask. ... As long as it's not ridiculous, I don't mind entertaining it."

The topic, it seems, varies. But it's always driven by Bleier. Hart said Bleier is more than willing to talk about his time in pinstripes. O'Day and Bleier often find opposite views on any subject, delighting the rest of the crowd. And they're more than willing to hear an explanation for how someone lives for three decades only drinking milk and water.

"I know I'm weird and left-handers are weird in general anyway," Bleier said. "I can just blame it on being left-handed and there's no problem. Everybody understands."

They also have come to understand — and enjoy — his work on the mound. Brach said it was refreshing to see a pitcher so true to himself.

"He's very stubborn out there," Brach said. "He does what he does well, and he does it to the point where he just bores it at you."

"I give up hits and stuff like that, but my philosophy is I'm going to challenge hitters and I'm going to try and keep the ball in the park," Bleier said. "I know that's kind of different at times, where if you challenge guys you're going to give up more home runs. I don't mind giving up singles. I know it's tough as a reliever, and in situations with guys on base I'll be a little more careful, but I'm going to challenge guys and try and pitch to contact. That's just the way I've had success and I'm going to keep doing it until it doesn't work anymore. I'm just going to stick with that."

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