— As I mentioned earlier, it was cold out there today, so player availability surely wasn’t anywhere near as long as it should have been. Kevin Mahoney came out from the clubhouse looking like he was ready to rob a bank, while GM Will Smith and clubhouse attendant K.C. Ruch inexplicably had shorts on.
But I was able to chat with a few guys today — there will be PLENTY of time to do feature work during the year, I’m not one of the typical bozos who shows up to media day and you never hear from them again — and there were some interesting notes to come out of all that.
— Shaeffer Hall, he of the 9-10 record and 3.67 ERA in 27 starts last season, will be a lefty specialist/long reliever this season. Given the amount of southpaws on the pitching staff (six), the latter option seems to be a lot more likely.
“It’s a little different than the past few years, but I think I’m going to be able to handle it,” he said. “It’s going to be a big adjustment. I haven’t really thrown out of the pen before, but as the season goes along and I find my own routine, I think it’ll be just fine. That’s the only issue right now, just finding that routine and seeing how I can do when I need to bounce back from the day after I pitch or on back-to-back days.”
Hall found out about his new role in spring, and had him on the mound once every third day, so it didn’t quite get him accustomed to the bullpen.
The 25-year-old was also asked about the way last season ended — Trenton lost to the Akron Aeros in the Championship Series — and how much of a motivating factor that will be to the guys who were a part of that group in 2012.
“Honestly, I haven’t heard too many guys talking about it, but I wanted to remind everybody about that this past week,” Hall said. “I think we have a good group of guys here, probably the most talented of the three teams I’ve been on here. I think it’s definitely possible to get back to the Eastern League Championship and win it. We just have to stay healthy and we’ve got to have good chemistry, but definitely the talent is there. If we can put it all together, we can get back there.”
— Jeremy Bleich is another lefty looking to get his career back on track. When we last saw Bleich, he was a highly touted southpaw starter who was going through a rough season in 2010. As it turns out, it’s because his labrum was about to blow out on him. After a missed year and a subsequent somewhat wasted season on the comeback trail, Bleich is back and now in the bullpen.
“There were some times,” said Bleich of the last two seasons.
“I had shoulder surgery and it was tough to really come back from at first. It took me a long time to loosen back up and get my strength back in my shoulder. Starting off here in 2010 was really exciting, and then there were some ups and downs in there, but I think I’ve learned a lot from it. I’ve learned a lot about baseball and just the grind of life. It helped me understand that maybe giving up a home run or having a bad inning, maybe it’s not as bad as having the game taken away from you for a little bit. I think it put things in perspective for me, and I’m grateful for that.”
Now 25, Bleich says there were times he wondered if his career might be over, unsure if he’d be able to bounce back or get back to where was.
“I think when you start saying that type of stuff, you’re looking at the big picture,” he said. “I think what I’ve tried to do is take every day as it is, that whole one day at a time thing. Just not look too far ahead and just take care of today, and hopefully that way I’ll get back to where I was.”
For now, of course, that won’t be as a starter. And the approach he once had will have to be modified a bit as a result, as he now throws more sinkers and says he’s paid a lot more attention to his pre and post-game routines in terms of taking care of his arm. But Bleich is just happy to be breaking camp somewhere, which he hasn’t done since 2010, saying it feels like the first day of school all over again.
— Bleich isn’t the only one who thought he might be done. Tony Franklin revealed publicly for the first time that he had similar thoughts during the middle of last season, one he stuck out and eventually won “Manager of the Year” for. Knee replacement surgery had slowed the 62-year-old skipper, and he says he thought about heading home for good.
“If somebody had asked me if I was coming back (in the middle of last season) last year, I’d have said no. That’s how bad it was,” he said. “But I stuck it out, and all of a sudden, miraculously, I was able to halfway run across the field…I started to feel better. I’m happy to be able to do this, there’s no other job I’d want to do.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com