Bleier pounding the strike zone

SURPRISE, AZ - Richard Bleier was efficient in his first Spring Training outing of the year, tossing just 23 pitches in two innings. Lone Star Dugout chatted with the left-hander after a recent game.

Left-hander Richard Bleier may be one of the more underrated arms in the Rangers' system.

Bleier hasn't been in the organization for long – he was selected in the sixth round of the 2008 MLB Draft – but he was overshadowed in a Spokane rotation last year that included five of the system's top 25 prospects.

There is not much to dislike about Bleier. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound southpaw has a good frame, an excellent upper-80s, low-90s sinker, and solid command of both his slider and changeup.

The 21-year-old had a strong start to his pro career last summer, posting a 4.02 ERA in 62.2 innings for short-season Spokane. He yielded 61 hits, walked just 11, and struck out 44. Bleier's sinker helped him record 3.48 groundouts per flyout with the Indians.

Entering his first full season, Bleier is very polished and he figures to open the 2009 campaign with a full-season club – either Low-A Hickory or High-A Bakersfield. The Blaze may be the most likely bet at this time.

Lone Star Dugout chatted with the Florida native after a recent Spring Training game.

Jason Cole: I haven't spoken to you since you finished your debut season with Spokane. How did you feel about it?

Richard Bleier: There were definitely some ups and downs. I experienced a lot of different things that I'm not used to. I was getting hit around – I've never really done that before. But I feel like it was a good learning experience for me because I went through some tough times in the middle of the year and I finished strong. I was pretty happy with how I finished the year.

Cole: How do you feel you developed as a pitcher in your first year of pro ball?

Bleier: I was just getting used to the five-day rotation. I felt like my changeup really came along and just my overall confidence in pitching. Once I got there, I started out real strong and I knew I could pitch at this level. I really felt that it was a good thing.

Cole: How often were you throwing your changeup in college?

Bleier: Honestly not that much. I was mostly fastball, curveball, slider. Then I stopped throwing my curveball once I got here and I just really started working on my changeup. My last outing here in Spring Training, I threw one slider and all fastball-changeup. I asked around and they said it was the toughest pitch to hit, so I started throwing it a lot more.

Cole: Have you made any adjustments to your changeup – the way you throw it, grip it, or whatnot – since you joined the organization?

Bleier: Not really. I just got a better feel for it and it was all about confidence. I really feel confident that I can throw it in any count, so that's what it was mostly about. My first start up in the short season, I was throwing in the bullpen and it kind of just really came together. It has been good ever since then.

Cole: What has been your primary focus during Spring Training?

Bleier: Just my all-around pitching really. Nothing in particular. Just getting back into competition and stuff like that. All the stuff that I didn't do in the offseason in terms of fielding.

I felt like I came into Spring Training in probably the best shape of my life and my arm was ready to go. The picks, the bunts, and bunt defense – all that stuff we are working on now. I feel that by the time we break, I'll bee 100 percent.

Cole: What did you do over the offseason to prepare for your first full year?

Bleier: I got a personal trainer that I worked out with two or three times per week. I actually threw with my dad. I did the Rangers' throwing program. I think I started throwing in December or January two times per week. Then I worked three times per week and the last month I was probably throwing six times per week.

I started throwing bullpens in January once a week and then in the month of February, I threw two times per week. I think I'm going to stick with that offseason routine because it worked out well. I came in here and I felt pretty strong. I feel like I'm in pretty good shape.

Cole: How many times have you pitched in games so far?

Bleier: I've only had one outing. I'm pitching again tomorrow.

Cole: How did that one outing go?

Bleier: Two innings. I gave up one run but I was pretty happy with the way I pitched. I think I was nine-for-nine first-pitch strikes. I threw 23 pitches in two innings and like 19 strikeouts, so I felt like my command was there.

Cole: Where are you expecting to start this season? Do you have any expectations on that?

Bleier: I have no idea. I'm just going to pitch and it's up to them wherever they want to send me. As long as I'm not stuck in extended I'll be happy, because it gets pretty hot here.

Cole: I know it has almost no bearing on where you'll start the season, but which team have you been working out with thus far?

Bleier: Bakersfield.

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