We are 54 days away from Opening Day. That’s less than two months, less than 8 weeks. As was once infamously said about Paris practically being a suburb of Berlin, “It’s a nothing commute.” In other words, it’ll be here before you know it.
Just think about the milestones we’ve already left in our collective rear-views this winter.
No, wait, don’t think about that. Think about my guy who wears #54 for the Milwaukee Brewers, my favorite baseball team…
Last winter I took a particular interest in Michael Robert Blazek, being the only person to bend his ear for a time at the annual On Deck fan fest event. We talked about his off-season program and the things he was focusing on in order to get better and have the best season of his career.
Well, I’d say it paid off.
I say that for a number of reasons. It was Blazek’s first full season in the big leagues for starters…er…to start with. He pitched exclusively in relief and, get this, posted his best full-season ERA (2.43) of his professional career. That’s at any level. He prevented runs better in 2015 against MLB competition than he had at any point along his winding ascent to the big leagues following his being selected in the 35th(!) round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. His previous best was a combined 3.00 in 2013 which was compiled between two minor league levels for St. Louis, and big league time in both St. Louis and Milwaukee that year.
It goes beyond ERA though. Blazek’s FIP was a career-best 3.17, his WHIP a career-best 1.042. He allowed just 6.5 H/9 and 2.9 BB/9. Both figures are, you guessed it, career-bests.
Blazek appeared in 45 games, 32 of which were scoreless appearances. He also inherited runners nine times (13 total inherited) in 2015 (once with the bases loaded) and only allowed any of them to score twice. Those days were the Opening Day team-wide disaster against Colorado and a 10-1 loss to the Braves on May 21st.
About the only thing that went wrong for the 6’0″ right-handed Las Vegas native was a signifcant one. Blazek suffered a broken hand at some point. I say “at some point” because no one is really certain when it happened. One day, while throwing long toss, Blazek’s right hand just started to swell. There wasn’t any pain involved which is why it could have been undetected for some time.
The bone eventually would heal and Blazek worked hard to return before the end of the year. That would end up not being in the cards as the team moved Blazek to the 60-day disabled list to open a 40-man roster spot for one of the Biloxi troop which was called up late in the year. Blazek told me that he was disappointed by the move as he was near a clean bill of health and really didn’t want his season to end on the sour note of injury.
As for the injury itself, it certainly would help explain his rough patch leading up to the diagnosis. Beginning on July 30, Blazek allowed runs in four of five appearances including allowing all three of his home runs for the season, the last of which resulted in a walk-off win for the Chicago Cubs on August 12th.
This led to speculation that Blazek injured his hand nefariously striking something out of frustration because everything’s a conspiracy, apparently. That wasn’t the case here and a bone in Blazek’s hand broke.
I spoke to Blazek about it again at Brewers On Deck last month and he told me that he’s doing some exercises to make sure his grip strength is where is needs to be but he’s healthy and ready to go when Pitchers & Catchers report on February 19.
(Sidebar: His hair is also most definitely ready.)
And to follow up on the question I asked him a year ago, I wondered what his goals were for 2016. After getting through the baseball stuff (BOR-ING!, right??) he said he desires to become the greatest FIFA player of all time on PS4. Any challengers feel up to letting Blazek hone his skills?
Seriously though, on the baseball stuff Blazek said he’s on track with his preparations which are strikingly similar to last season. You know, that season when he was the best he’s ever been.
Works for me. Good answer.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @MichaelBlazek34
Catch up on BBtJN ’16: