Long journey to Majors well worth it for Bleier

29-year-old left-hander makes big league debut with Yankees

Long journey to Majors well worth it for Bleier

TORONTO -- After nine seasons riding buses through various Minor League outposts, including three-plus years when it seemed his career had stalled in the Texas League, a set of big league bullpen doors finally swung open for Richard Bleier on Monday evening.

Though the 29-year-old's Major League debut went by in a flash, with the left-hander turning three pitches into two outs during the Yankees' 4-2 loss to the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, he said it was absolutely worth the wait.

"I was definitely excited and pretty pumped up," Bleier said. "I think what helped me the most was going to big league camp and knowing everyone. I feel like if I didn't know anyone when I first came up, I would have been a lot more nervous.

"There's no preparing for something like that, even with almost a thousand innings in the Minor Leagues. It's just something you've got to go out there and get through the first one, really."

A sixth-round pick of the Rangers in the 2008 Draft, Bleier began his pro career as a starter and saw success when he moved to the bullpen in 2012. He then spent time in the Blue Jays' and Nationals' systems, returning to starting before latching on with the Yankees as a free agent this year. At 29 years, 43 days, Bleier is one of 12 Yankees pitchers since 1919 to make his Major League debut after turning 29 years old, and the first since Amauri Sanit on May 12, 2011, vs. Kansas City.

Bleier induced a pair of groundouts in his debut, relieving Nick Goody and getting Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak to bounce harmlessly to the middle infield as Toronto was held scoreless in the eighth inning. Keeping the ball down has been Bleier's bread and butter.

"He got two ground balls pretty quick. Pretty neat," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "As long as he's been in the game, that was his first appearance, and I'm sure there were times he thought about walking away when it hadn't happened. I mean, this was his first big league camp. Think about that, 29 years old, that's pretty amazing, so it was good to see him in there."

Bleier said that it has been a breakthrough of sorts to begin challenging hitters more aggressively, while shying away from throwing so many first-pitch fastballs. Instead, curveballs and changeups early in the count have kept hitters guessing.

"My whole professional career, I've always had low walk rates, but I've always given up a lot of hits and never struck people out," Bleier said. "Just this last year, nothing is different and my pitches are the same, but I changed my approach. That really helped me out."

Bleier said that his cell phone has been buzzing with messages of support from family members, teammates dating back to high school and college, plus former coaches and many others he encountered during the long and winding journey to The Show.

"After nine years, there have been plenty of people that have helped me along the way one way or another; I lived with a host family just last year," Bleier said. "Definitely, it's a great feeling to know people are following me and reaching out. It's nice to feel the love."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.