Yanks pick Bleich sharp in CWS
Lefty solid for Stanford in Cardinal win at College World Series
OMAHA -- When the Yankees used the 44th pick in last week's First-Year Player Draft on Stanford's Jeremy Bleich, there were naturally some who wondered whether the left-hander was worthy of such a lofty selection.
He did, after all, miss eight weeks this year with a strained ligament in his left elbow. Even before the injury, some pundits and pre-Draft gurus weren't certain that Bleich would go that high after having a mediocre 2007 season. Bleich, however, has continued to prove the naysayers wrong, doing so again on Saturday in the opening game of the College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Though he didn't figure in the decision, Bleich threw five impressive innings, as the Cardinal upended Florida State, 16-5. He held the Seminoles scoreless through five, before allowing a home run to Dennis Guinn on his 89th and final pitch. Bleich scattered only six hits while striking out a season-high seven. Though he found himself in trouble every inning, most of which was of his own making, he was still able to extend his streak of not allowing an earned run to 25 2/3 innings before Guinn connected.
"You don't find many lefties with his velocity," Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. "I think people saw him at the Cape [Cod League] last summer and he came back and pitched well for us in the fall. He lit it up on the Cape and scouts saw that.
"There's no question he would have been a first-rounder but he hurt his elbow and was not pitching for eight weeks. Guys do their homework, though. You don't find lefties every day with that kind of arm. I think the Yankees know what they're doing."
What was most impressive was how Bleich, who was unavailable after the game, handled the vaunted FSU lineup. The Seminoles entered the CWS averaging 13.3 runs in their eight previous NCAA tournament games. But he continually kept them off balance, while holding down Giants top pick Buster Posey, considered by most to be college baseball's most dangerous hitter, in check, limiting him to a single in three at-bats.
"He was very impressive," FSU coach Mike Martin said. "He spotted his fastball very well."
That brought up Jack Rye, who was also drafted last week by the Yanks in the 13th round. While the two will likely be teammates sometime in the next few weeks either at Short Season Class A Staten Island or Class A Charleston, Bleich gave Rye no quarter, getting him to line out to left field to end the threat. Bleich pumped his fist and danced off the mound after retiring Rye with two men on for the third time.
The Cardinal defense didn't do Bleich any favors in the first inning, as Jason Stidham reached on a single that second baseman Cord Phelps bobbled. Posey followed and reached base on an error by third baseman Zach Jones. But he was left stranded as Bleich got Rye looking as Jason Castro (first round, Astros) threw out Stidham trying to steal third, completing the double play.
"In that first inning, we had a double-play ball that Posey hit and we didn't turn in," Marquess said. "But he settled in. His fastball was good and he was getting his curve over. He wasn't getting his offspeed stuff over early, but once he settled in, he was getting them over. It was a tremendous pitching effort."
After working through a two-out double by Stuart Tapley in the second inning, Bleich once again faced Rye in the third inning with two runners on and two outs but got him to ground weakly to short to end the threat. Bleich allowed a leadoff single in the fourth to Guinn (17th round, Texas) before retiring the next three batters, setting up the dramatic fifth inning.
"We had the medicals done," Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees' vice president of amateur scouting said, on Draft day. "There was a strained ligament in the elbow in the middle of the season. They rehabilitated it. He was back. The last two times we saw him pitch, he was throwing 92-93 mph. There was never any detachment in the ligament. His rehab and what we saw coming back on the velocity allowed us to think we were safe doing this [making the pick]."
That much was evident on Saturday afternoon.
Kevin T. Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.