Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’17 — #54 Michael Blazek
It’s 54 days until Monday, April 3rd.
It’s also Wednesday, February 8 which means we’re one week away from the first official workout for Brewers’ Pitchers & Catchers at Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix.
Among that group of players participating will be today’s profile subject…
This countdown tends to have a severe pitching slant early on, especially in years where I don’t have the official jersey numbers list until late January. There admittedly aren’t many full-time position players rocking numbers north of 50.
Michael Blazek is another relief pitcher amidst a score of bullpen options who who will be evaluated by manager Craig Counsell beginning a week from today. Counsell missed Blazek at times last season, especially once Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith were traded at the non-waiver deadline.
Blazek brings a pedigree of higher-leverage situations worked, which he did to great success in 2015 before suffering through a couple of lengthier injuries in 2016. He first missed a chunk of time beginning at the end of June with an elbow injury. He didn’t pitch in the big leagues between May 28th and June 21st. Blazek also made just two rehab appearances as he was needed back quickly in Milwaukee.
That return may have proven to be too quick as, at the very least, Blazek’s mechanics were off and he was getting hit around at a rate far beyond his norm. Following a four-run appearance on July 9th in which he recorded no out, he ended up being sent back down on an option to Triple-A on July 14th to get his mechanics iron out.
He would be recalled two weeks later when Jacob Barnes hit the disabled list, and Blazek’s early results were encouraging as he posted five scoreless innings across three games. That he was pitching longer in those games was a targeted approached by Counsell and his staff. He said at the time, and I’m paraphrasing, that they felt Blazek was better when he could settle in during an appearance and solve issues in the moment.
Injury would strike again in mid-August as this time Blazke’s forearm failed him and he landed back on the 15-day DL. His rehab came along slower than they hoped but Blazek’s goal was to pitch a couple of times before the end of the season. His 2015 ended with a minor injury Blazek felt he could certainly have come back from but he was pushed to the 60-day DL to clear a roster spot that September. He told me last September that the absolute last thing he wanted was to end consecutive seasons on the DL.
Blazek would make it back to the mound, but for just one final game which came on September 24th against the Cincinnati Reds. He surrendered two runs (one earned) that day -- in part due to walking a pair of batters -- but his 22 pitches were pain free that day so Blazek was pleased afterward.
As for his 2017 outlook, I spoke to Blazek at the end of the 2016 calendar year and he told me that he was working on a new training regimen to combat the kinds of injuries he’s been suffering. We agreed to follow up at Brewers On Deck last month and Blazek told me that a lot of the changes have to do with flexibility and staying loose. After years of training in the off-season for stamina despite realizing his role was in short relief, Blazek feels he’s made smart changes to his preparations.
I fully expect Blazek to break camp in the big league bullpen despite the previously talked about bevy of options. Blazek brings experience and, when healthy, proven ability to handle big league batters. That should give him priority position over less-experienced-if-capable guys like Damien Magnifico. The only real way Blazek could be squeezed out is if a combination of factors arise, including Joba Chamberlain’s likely addition to the 40-man and a starting pitcher being squeezed out of the rotation and into the bullpen as a long reliever.
All of that is yet to be decided of course, but in one week Blazek and rest of his pitching brethren get started on giving Counsell and his staff the necessary information to make those choices.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @MichaelBlazek34
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