Left-hander Richard Bleier turned in his fourth consecutive quality start on Tuesday night, when he limited the Inland Empire 66ers to just one run on six hits over eight innings. He struck out three without walking a batter.
On the season as a whole, Bleier has a 4.03 earned-run average. His ERA sits at 4.58 in 19 starts with High-A Bakersfield. Bleier has logged 123.2 innings with the Blaze, giving up 143 hits, walking 19, and fanning 91.
Bleier has been particularly good in three August starts, surrendering just four earned runs in 21 innings.
The 22-year-old often works in the upper-80s, low-90s with his fastball, but the velocity has dipped between 85-88 mph lately. However, Bleier is still able to succeed because of the fastball's excellent sink and his plus command.
That sink has allowed Bleier to get over two groundouts per airout on the whole this season. On Tuesday, he recorded 17 outs on the ground versus just four in the air.
The 6-foot-3 hurler also uses a slider and a changeup, and he throws both pitches in the lower-half of the strike zone with ease. Bleier's changeup has become his second-best pitch, as he states in the following interview, and he uses it frequently to both left- and right-handers.
Bleier's slider has potential. He commands the pitch well, but he still must tighten it up and get a sharper break.
In Tuesday's outing, Bleier threw just 85 pitches in eight innings. Because he pounds the strike zone with three different pitches, hitters swing early and often against Bleier, putting the ball in play on the first and second pitches of at-bats.
Still, Bleier doesn't allow hitters to square up many balls. Although the California League is regarded as hitter-friendly, he has surrendered just seven home runs in 147.1 total innings this season.
With a good feel for pitching, decent stuff, and plus command, Bleier stands a good chance to open the 2010 season at Double-A Frisco. But for now, he'll working on taking home a ring, as the Blaze appear to be the only Rangers affiliate likely to reach the playoffs.
Jason Cole: Eight innings and one run for you tonight. Just give me your thoughts on your performance.
Richard Bleier: I was pretty happy with the way I finished off. The first three innings, it seemed like I was falling behind every hitter. I don't think I threw a first-pitch strike in the first three innings. I was just getting lucky and making pitches when I needed to. And then I finally figured it out and kind of cruised through the rest of the game. I had one bad pitch—that double and that was the only run there.
Cole: You mentioned getting it turned around after those first two or three innings. Was it a mechanical adjustment you made?
Bleier: Yeah. I think I felt too good and I was just trying to throw a little bit too hard. I had to get back within myself and settle down and make better pitches like down and away. Changeups and stuff like that. It was definitely a mechanical adjustment that I had to make.
Cole: Did your pitching coach, Dave Chavarria, come up to you and say something that helped trigger that?
Bleier: No. It has been a long year. I kind of know, based on where I miss and what I'm doing wrong—I kept missing down and in all the time. I was kind of pulling off pitches and not really getting out in front of everything. I kind of straightened that out in warmups and it went from there.
Cole: A little over a month ago, you went through a stretch where opponents were hitting you pretty well. Now your last three or four starts have been really good. What has been the difference for you?
Bleier: I'm just keeping the ball down. I'm making pitches when I really need to. I got some key double plays early on and a lot of ground balls to keep runners from advancing with less than two outs and stuff like that.
Before—I'm always going to be in the zone. It's just that if my ball elevates, they put some hits together and I'll give up runs. Lately I've felt like I have been locating really well and mixing it up and throwing everything for a strike. It seems to be working out.
Cole: We're towards the end of your first full season, and you've got quite a few innings this year. In fact, I think you currently lead the Rangers' system with 147.1 innings pitched. How is the arm feeling?
Bleier: I feel great. My velocity is not where it used to be, but I still feel really good. I don't feel like I'm wearing down. I'm at 150 innings or something like that now too, but I really feel fine. I was talking with Eric, our strength coach, and I said I feel just like I did in Spring Training. I guess that's a good thing.
Cole: What have you done that has allowed you to succeed even though your velocity isn't where you're used to working?
Bleier: Definitely my sinker is working. I'm really locating well down and away and throwing pitches in off the plate. I'm not going to overpower people, so I just have to keep hitters uncomfortable by throwing in off the plate and throwing offspeed behind in the count.
I've been doing that really well lately—just throwing my changeup a lot. Throwing it 1-0, 2-0, 3-2, and stuff like that. If the hitter is looking fastball and I throw a changeup, I get a bunch of groundouts. If they look changeup, my fastball looks a lot harder than it really is because they're looking offspeed. Definitely keeping them off-balance has been working out.
Cole: You mentioned your changeup. Are you usually throwing your changeup more than the slider?
Bleier: Oh, for sure. Only some games—occasionally I'll throw a lot of sliders. It depends on—tonight I threw one slider through the first four or five innings. I probably could've gotten away with not throwing it at all tonight. I was just trying to strike people out with it. Some of those righties, when I threw it to them with two strikes.
I definitely could get away with living fastball-changeup. My slider is a pitch I can go to when I need an out. With people in scoring position, I can just pull that out. They haven't seen it, so it's a different look. It's not fading away, it is coming in on them. If I really need a big out, I'll go to the slider there.
Cole: Like you've said, you do have a lot of confidence in your changeup and you throw it quite a bit. Were you a guy that threw a lot of changeups back in college last year?
Bleier: Not really. I started it when I got to pro ball last year in Spokane. My first start there, I just figured it out. I threw a changeup and I was like, ‘Oh, there it is.' It was just like that. As weird as that sounds, I struggled in college with my control of it. I was a fastball-curveball-slider guy. And I dropped my curveball because it was pretty inconsistent.
But my changeup—I was getting more and more confidence with it last year and now I feel like it is my go-to pitch. If I had a guy on first with one out and I have a guy 1-2, all I have to do is throw that guy a changeup and I'm going to get a double play ball for sure. I would've called that. It's definitely a go-to pitch now. I'm pretty happy with that.
Cole: What happened in Spokane? Did you change the grip or make an adjustment? Was it something you did, or did you just find the feel for it suddenly?
Bleier: It was like a sudden feel for it. I just threw a couple of good ones and that was it. I kind of got confidence in it and said, ‘Wow, I can throw this pitch.' It definitely is a pitch that I need to throw and it's a pitch that I can throw and get people out with. I just went from there. I've been throwing it—the way I pitch, I have to have a changeup. I can't be a fastball-curveball kind of guy.
Cole: Did you feel maybe part of the reason the change improved was because you knew it was necessary in pro ball? I know in college, you were probably able to dominate with just fastball and breaking stuff.
Bleier: Definitely. In college, I got away with throwing a bunch of fastballs and getting a lot of ground balls like that. But I heard everybody talking about fastball-changeup and how you need to have a changeup to be a starter. It's not like it was a terrible pitch. It was more like a show pitch in college. Now it is a go-to pitch. Definitely I knew I needed to have it. I guess I came through there.
Cole: I'm remembering a scouting report on you from Baseball America around last year's draft. It said early in games you would work around the low-90s and a lot of scouts would leave after the first few innings. And then in the later innings, after they left, your velocity would be in the upper-80s, but you had more success then and your sinker had more sink. Is that kind of the same thing that is happening this year even though your velo is down a bit?
Bleier: Definitely. I feel like if I make it through the first couple of innings—once I get settled in—I've definitely had a lot of games where I have struggled with the first two or three innings. They'll touch me up and then I'll throw four scoreless innings and stuff like that.
Once I get settled into the game, it is just making it through the first couple of innings. For whatever reason—I just have to get a feel for the game. Today, that could've been a totally different game the way I was pitching in the first three innings. I just happened to make good 2-0 pitches or 3-1 pitches to get guys to ground out. I definitely got lucky there.
Cole: Very rarely do you see a guy get as many first and second-pitch outs as you do. It keeps your pitch count down obviously.
Bleier: Yeah, I only threw 85 pitches through eight innings. I looked at the counter in the seventh, and I was at 71 through seven or something like that. I was like, ‘Wow, I've got a good chance here.'
That is why I have a ton of innings this year. Because even when I've struggled and given up runs, I still don't throw very many pitches. In my bad games, I'll go six innings and give up four or five runs or whatever it is. And then good games I'll go seven, eight, or whatever.
I rarely have those ten-pitch at-bats. People always put the ball in play early—real early to a point where I don't even have a chance to strike people out because they swing at the first two pitches and get a ground ball or whatever they do. That's definitely my game. If I get a chance to strike people out, I definitely wouldn't mind obviously. But I'd much rather they swing early and get weak groundouts.
It felt like I had 20 groundouts tonight or something like that. Obviously I don't go out there and throw eight great innings every night, but that was kind of a typical game. A lot of ground balls—even the hits are ground balls through the holes and stuff like that. That is definitely a typical game for me right there—keeping the ball on the ground.
Cole: I'm not sure Inland Empire counts here, since you guys rarely play them. But have you noticed the teams in your division taking a different approach against you once they face you multiple times?
Bleier: The only thing—we played these guys way early in the year and I knew nothing about these hitters. I remembered some names from when I charted, but I don't even remember if I pitched against them or not.
So I was asking Chavvy what he had on these guys and what kind of team they are. He said they were going to swing and they were going to run. He said just to pitch my game and I'll be alright. The only thing I felt like they knew I was going to throw strikes is when that guy hit the 3-0 base hit. I'm sure he was probably like, ‘He's not going to walk me. He's going to come up with a strike here.'
Bleier a model of efficiency
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