Richard Bleier didn’t know what to expect when he was acquired by the Miami Marlins. He was one of seven players brought in from outside the organization — and one of 16 players overall added to the big league roster — in August 2020 after the Marlins tested 18 positive for COVID-19, a Outbreak that prompted the marlins to quarantine for a week.
“The first thoughts,” said Bleier, “were definitely, I don’t even know what’s going on here.”
Two years later, Bleier is still here — the only player among those 16 call-ups who is not only still on the 40-man roster, but in some capacity within the organization — and he’ll be here a bit longer, too.
The Marlins announced on Tuesday that they had given Bleier a two-year contract extension with a club option for the 2024 season. Bleier, a South Plantation High alumnus from Miami Beach who turns 35 on April 16, will make $2.25 million this season and $3.5 million in 2023. Club option for the 2024 season is $3.75 million or a $250,000 buyout.
“It’s an enriching experience, especially in my situation,” said Bleier. “Not too many guys sign their first free agent deal for a full year at 35, so it’s been quite a journey.”
“He just knows who he is”
That journey includes a portion of nine seasons in the minor leagues before making his MLB debut with the New York Yankees in 2016 and then spending three seasons with the Baltimore Orioles in 2017-19 before starting the pandemic-shortened season Joined the Marlins in 2020.
He’s now firmly established as the key high-leverage left-hander in the Marlins’ bullpen.
Bleier has a 2.89 ERA in 87 games for Miami over the past two seasons and has maintained left-handers at a .218 batting average throughout his career.
And while many look to strikeouts when evaluating pitchers, that’s not Bleier’s forte. He’s a groundball pitcher and he’s good at it. According to Statcast, 64.4 percent of balls put into play against him were on the ground (MLB average for comparison: 45.1 percent).
“He’s not a guy trying to hit the front of the zone,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly. “He tries to do what he does. He knows who he is. We try to adjust it accordingly. We try to give him as many left-handers as possible. He was hard on them. He just knows who he is.”
Bleier added: “From the start everyone, including me – you’re not sure. You have to prove to yourself that you’re good enough for this level, and eventually, when you have continued success, you realize, ‘Yeah, it’s not lucky you got that guy out. You’re good and you got this guy out.’ Some people get it quicker than others, but I don’t think they would call guys if they didn’t think that applied to them. It’s all about getting the player to actually engage with it. I’ve come a long way and I know what I’m doing can work. It’s just about getting it done.”
“There is no substitute for experience”
And with that ease in his game comes an opportunity to pass knowledge on to the rest of his teammates, especially since the Marlins have plenty of youth among their aides.
Bleier quickly became a helping hand for rookies like Anthony Bender, Zach Pop and Sean Guenther throughout the 2021 season. All three endured tough times in their debut seasons in the big league. Bleier became a sort of mentor to the three as they maneuvered their way through their fights – helping them pitch sequencing, scouting and maximizing each pitch.
“You can’t replace experience in this game,” said Bleier. “Unfortunately, this is a game that you have to live and learn, so if I can share my experiences that I’ve learned the hard way with the younger or less experienced guys, they can speed up the learning curve. I think it will only help everyone.”
Günther, the only remnant of the rookie trio from a season ago, said the mentoring would continue for him in the off-season when he and Bleier would train at the same gym.
“He really wanted to come to me and tell me what he saw,” said Guenther. “You’re talking about a guy who’s been around for almost six, seven years now. He knows what it takes to be successful. … With such a resource, a guy willing to say, ‘That’s what I see; That’s what I think you can do better.
Mentally, Bleier has what it takes to become a coach after his playing career. It’s crossed his mind before — “Pretty much after every bad outing, I think about what I’m going to do with my life after baseball,” he said — but he has other priorities at this point.
“I’m concentrating on this season,” said Bleier.
And possibly the next two after that.