PHOENIX — Michael Blazek is making Brewers manager Ron Roenicke’s life difficult.
When the Brewers opened spring training in February, bullpen depth was a real concern. But, after a return to health by Tyler Thornburg, the re-signing of Francisco Rodriguez and perhaps most of all, the performance of pitcher Michael Blazek, the Brewers have some hard decisions to make regarding the bullpen.
Blazek, pitching both as a starter and in relief this spring, owns a 1-0 record and a 3.29 earned run average in Cactus League action. He’s notched 14 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings while holding hitters to a paltry .208 average. Likely ticketed for a Triple-A assignment when he reported to camp in February, Blazek has forced the Brewers to consider him for the team’s Opening Day roster.
"Coming into camp, we thought we knew what we were going to be in five spots in the bullpen and we didn’t know those last two," said Roenicke. "Now we’ve got too many guys that we like."
Acquired from the Cardinals on Sept. 1, 2013, as a part of the John Axford trade, Blazek has taken a different approach to making the team this year.
"I’m taking this one day at time," Blazek said. "I don’t want to look too far ahead. I did that last year and ended up putting way too much pressure on myself to perform. It hurt me a little bit mentally. I was more worried about being up with Milwaukee or where I was going to pitch than trying to get better one day at a time.
"This year, I’m attacking the hitters and I’m attacking the strike zone," he added. "Command and throwing the strikes, that’s what they want me to work on. My stuff’s good. It’s just a matter of trusting it in the strike zone. That’s what I’m doing."
Blazek also credits the support of his teammates, and particularly the pitching staff, for what he’s been able to accomplish this spring.
"This is a real loose clubhouse," Blazek noted. "You can talk to these guys and they want to help you out. I like the guys we have in here. I’ve been working with the starters primarily. Lohse, Garza, Wily, Fiers, Nelson, they’ve watched my bullpens and they’ve all had great input.
"It’s nice to have those guys looking over your shoulder so they can help you out."
If Blazek does make the club, it will likely be as a long reliever.
"He would probably make it as a long man," said Roenicke, of the 6-foot right-hander. "He looks like he’s put it together this spring. He looked like he put it together last year when they switched him from bullpen to starter. I hope that plays in the bullpen if decide to keep him."
For his part, Blazek is open to any role with the Brewers.
"If I had a choice, I’d like to start," he said. "But whatever they ask me to do, start or relieve, I’d be happy to do it. I’ve only thrown a little long relief. It’s either been starting or the back of the bullpen. I feel like I could do it, though. It’s like what I’ve been doing this spring."
Scheduled to start on Sunday against the A’s, Blazek intends to keep making Roenicke’s life difficult.
"I’m just going to keep working and trying to get better every day," Blazek said. "One day at a time, I’m going to show what I can do. You never know what’s going to happen in this game. Even if I break with the team, it’s the same process for me.
"I just want to get better every day."
In the meantime, Roenicke and the Brewers’ front office will be watching the team’s bullpen candidates closely.
"We’ve really got some tough decisions to make," Roenicke said on Saturday. "I say that every year, but we’ve really got some tough decisions this year."