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Blazek putting mystery injury behind him

Righty reliever in mix for setup role following strong 2015 season
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

PHOENIX -- No, Brewers reliever Michael Blazek still does not know how he broke his right hand last August.

And yes, he is weary of being asked.

PHOENIX -- No, Brewers reliever Michael Blazek still does not know how he broke his right hand last August.

And yes, he is weary of being asked.

Healthy again and having bulked up over the winter, Blazek is bidding for a more prominent role in the Brewers' post-Francisco Rodriguez bullpen. He's coming off a quality season in which he pitched to a 2.43 ERA in 45 games before sitting out the final month and a half with a cracked bone at the base of his right pinkie finger, the cause of which remains a mystery.

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"I thought about it nonstop for like a week, and my girlfriend was like, 'Stop thinking about this because it's going to drive you crazy the whole offseason,'" Blazek said. "I watched myself carefully from then on doing every little thing. It could have been something so small."

Even some of Blazek's best friends assumed there was a nefarious tale behind the broken hand, considering it happened just after Blazek surrendered a walk-off home run at Wrigley Field.

Over and over, Blazek insisted there was no such story.

"It got to the point where I got upset with some of my friends," he said. "It was constantly, 'So, what did you do, really?' I had that a lot this offseason. Everyone kind of looked at me differently, but, whatever."

A friend who did not ask those questions was Steven Valenzuela, an aspiring bodybuilder whom Blazek has known since high school. Blazek was amazed at how weak he'd become during his layoff with the broken hand, and he hit the gym in Las Vegas with Valenzuela beginning in late October.

Tweet from @MichaelBlazek34: Offseason workouts with my buddy Steve getting me my strength back for this season pic.twitter.com/L0jLzijnh4

"I'm not one who likes to do the mobility-type stuff," Blazek said. "I still do it, but I wanted to get stronger. So that's what I focused on."

He did lots of lower body work and gained about 10 pounds of muscle over the winter. Eventually, Blazek resumed a throwing program and got all the way up to 400 feet in long toss.

"The hard part was the first week of throwing," Blazek said. "It was all in my head, thinking I needed to manipulate things, thinking I would feel it. But after about a week, it was out of my head, and I was on my way."

Blazek, acquired in a 2013 trade with the Cardinals for John Axford, was among the Brewers pitchers who threw live batting practice at Maryvale Baseball Park on Saturday. It marked the first time Blazek had faced a hitter since Aug. 12, the day he surrendered the tiebreaking home run to the Cubs' Miguel Montero in the bottom of the 10th inning at Wrigley Field.

Blazek was in a rough patch at the time, having allowed seven earned runs in the span of nine games, but Blazek says it was not until the next day at Miller Park that he felt discomfort in his hand while playing catch. A day later, Blazek hit the disabled list. He missed the remainder of the season.

Spring Training offers a fresh start.

"We're looking for guys to get big outs, and we're open to [multiple relievers]," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who mentioned Blazek alongside Corey Knebel and Tyler Thornburg as possibilities to set up ninth-inning candidates Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith. "Mike's performance, Corey's performance, Tyler has shown the ability to do that. If you're counting on J.J. and Will for six or seven outs a night, there's going to be more outs, and big outs, to get in that bullpen."

If he stays healthy, Blazek figures to get some of those chances.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast.

 

Milwaukee Brewers, Michael Blazek