Since the first day that left-handed pitcher Richard Bleier set foot on a major league mound, he’s been easy to distinguish from his peers. It took eight full years of professional baseball for him to debut at the highest level, at which point Bleier was already past his 29th birthday. In this golden age of pitch velocity, he has never cracked 93 miles per hour, according to Statcast. The pre-Marlins portion of his career was spent in home ballparks with extreme hitter-friendly conditions yet he developed a consistent formula for keeping batted balls on the ground (and runs off the scoreboard).
It’s one thing to be atypical—it’s another to be truly unique.
Richard Bleier enters Friday as the only qualified MLB reliever who hasn’t issued a walk. All 58 batters who have faced the veteran southpaw in 2021 have either struck out, put a ball in play or homered. In most of those matchups, Bleier has found himself at a platoon disadvantage, but he fearlessly attacks the strike zone nonetheless. He never gives in.
At various points over these six-plus weeks, how close did Bleier come to soiling this unrivaled walk-less streak? Four opponents “had him on the ropes” in three-ball counts.
Let’s review the footage.
April 3 vs. Austin Meadows
First weekend of the 2021 MLB regular season! This streak could’ve—and probably should’ve—been snapped before it even got going.
Rays outfielder Austin Meadows homered off of Bleier in the previous game. However, Don Mattingly was undeterred, calling for a rematch in the seventh inning of a tied game with the Marlins desperate to avoid a season-opening series sweep.
Bleier surrendered the Meadows long ball on a cutter that split the middle of the plate. This time, in a full count, he and Chad Wallach decide not to take any chances. There is no shame in pitching around a hot hitter with the bases empty.
This slider winds up in the dirt, and luckily, Meadows offers at it.
Miami’s offense rallied in the bottom of that inning and the subsequent relievers did their jobs, so Bleier earned a win for his efforts.
April 14 vs. Marcell Ozuna
Seventh inning. Tied game. Home run threat at the plate. Again.
Minutes earlier, Bleier blew the Marlins’ lead on a Ronald Acuña Jr. home run. He tried to backdoor his sinker on the outside corner and missed just enough to his glove side for Acuña to get the sweet spot on it.
Marcell Ozuna works a 3-1 count, and Bleier makes the same mistake. The Big Bear’s timing is off, though. He is a split-second late and strokes it foul.
Now in a full count, Bleier and Jorge Alfaro try the cutter. The pitch’s velocity is several ticks slower, allowing Ozuna to put it in play. Adam Duvall has room on the warning track to make the inning-ending catch.
April 20 vs. Austin Hays
That’s about as borderline as it gets!
Bleier was way outside with his previous sinker to Austin Hays, but doubles down on it. The only question with the 3-2 offering is whether or not it was high enough. Home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski approves.
According to Umpire Scorecards (@UmpScorecards on Twitter), Muchlinski’s strike zone that night was extremely favorable for the Marlins. It didn’t ultimately swing the outcome of the game, but it preserved Bleier’s streak—that pitch may have been even lower than it appeared on the live television broadcast.
April 27 vs. Avisaíl García
Funky pitch sequence to Avisaíl García. Bleier started him off with six cutters in a row—jumping out to an 0-2 advantage and going to it again and again and again and again—before finally mixing things up with this sinker.
A pitcher’s walks, or lack thereof, only tell you a small slice of their overall performance. Bleier was awful through the first couple weeks of the season, but he has resembled his usual self ever since. That assessment would not be any different if one of these payoff pitches had slipped out of his hand.
However, it’s no coincidence that the Marlins bullpen—a unit which has been much improved from 2020—enters Friday with the lowest walk rate in the majors (6.8 BB%).
When will Richard Bleier walk his first batter of the season?
This poll is closed
No walks in 2021! We’re witnessing something special.