These Red Sox used to wear Blue and Green. Three former FGCU stars break camp with Boston
When Richard Bleier found himself being traded from the Florida Marlins to the Boston Red Sox this winter, he reached out to an old FGCU teammate − Chris Sale.
When Bleier texted him, there was no response. That’s because Sale had a new number.
Fortunately, Bleier kept his same number and Sale texted him.
And Bleier makes 3: Red Sox trade for FGCU product giving Boston another Eagles pitcher
Chris Sale throws five scoreless innings for Red Sox against Tampa Bay in first 2022 start
“It’s funny how you can go so long without seeing someone but when you connect, you pick up just where you left off,” Bleier said. “And that was 15 years ago.”
When the two left-handers reported to Red Sox camp at Fenway South in Fort Myers this spring, they were joined by another FGCU alum, Kutter Crawford, as well as former Estero High star Josh Winckowski, who wanted to play for the Eagles out of high school but signed with the Toronto Blue Jays after being drafted in 2016.
“That’s pretty cool and funny at the same time,” Crawford said.
What’s even cooler?
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All four made Boston’s Opening Day roster as the Red Sox traveled back to Boston for their season-opener at 2:10 today against the Orioles.
“They’ve done a lot of good things,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Crawford and Winckowski. “There’s always scenarios, right? But both are throwing the ball well.
“Bleier throws strikes, funky stuff. His stuff just disappears in the hitting zone. We like that.
“And Sale’s velocity is way up. I was telling (third base coach) Carlos (Febles) that he’s throwing hard.”
Bleier returns to Southwest Florida
The Texas Rangers selected Bleier out of FGCU in the sixth round of the 2008 draft and since then, he’s pitched in the minors for the Washington Nationals and majors for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Florida Marlins. he's appeared in 308 career MLB games, all but two as a reliever, and has compiled a 14-6 record with a 3.06 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.
Bleier, 35, was inducted into the FGCU Athletic Hall of Fame on Jan. 20 still having an Eagles-best career winning percentage of .810 (17-4) while ranking fourth in complete games (six) and ERA (2.70). Little did he know at the induction ceremony that he’d have an extended stay in Southwest Florida.
On Jan. 30, the Miami Marlins traded him to the Red Sox. As an unsuspecting Bleier said, “One day I’m on the Marlins and the next I’m on the Red Sox.”
Two weeks later he reported to Boston’s spring training home at JetBlue Park.
“If anything, being familiar with the area has been fun for me,” Bleier said. “I went to FGCU’s first baseball game as well as a basketball game. My 3-year-old loves that stuff and FGCU is very accommodating. But it’s been 15 years, a lot has changed and the traffic is pretty aggressive.”
Bleier hasn’t been in camp the whole time because he represented Israel in the World Baseball Classic. The Israelis beat Nicaragua 3-1 before losing to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic 10-0 and Venezuela 5-1.
“It’s an honor, it really is,” Bleier said. “I represent the Red Sox this year. Last year it was the Marlins and before that, the Orioles, but I’ll forever be Jewish and tied to Israel.
“What I learned when I played (summer ball) in the Dominican Republic, they take (national pride) as seriously as state-side baseball. There’s a tremendous amount of passion to play for your country because it’s where you were born.”
And because of those passions, the lefty pitched in games that were much more intense than spring training contests. As a result, he feels ready for the season to begin.
“No matter what you do in the offseason, it can’t replicate a game,” he said. “And you can’t replicate a Major League game in spring training.
“The Classic helped me turn it on. When I throw now, I’m not treating it like a spring-training game, I feel like we’re in season. I’m not working on this pitch or wanting to do this. My focus now is on getting people out.”
Kutter throws a cutter
Before attending FGCU, Crawford learned how to throw a cutter thanks to brother Jonathon Crawford, a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers in 2013.
“He showed me the grip and when he threw it, it looked more like a slider,” Crawford said. “When I started to throw it, it looked more like a cutter. I brought it to FGCU and that was the first time I threw it in games. (FGCU baseball) coach (Dave) Tollett liked the pitch.”
While he threw the cutter about 15 percent of the time, Crawford said it’s now one of his go-to pitches. “It’s the most-used pitch behind the fastball,” he said.
Crawford, 26, went 7-1 with a 1.07 earned run average as he helped the Eagles reach their first NCAA Division I tournament in 2017.
“My favorite moments were winning the (ASUN) conference championship game in Deland,” he recalled. “We won the first game, lost the second, then had to win back-to-back doubleheaders.”
Crawford drew the start vs. Michigan in the NCAA Tournament at Chapel Hill, N.C. He helped keep the team in the game until it rallied for a 10-6 victory.
After the Red Sox drafted him in 2017, Crawford worked his way up Boston’s minor-league system before making his Major League debut on Sept. 5, 2021.
Last season, Crawford went 3-6 in 21 games (12 starts) with a 5.47 ERA while striking out 77 batters in 77 1⁄3 innings.
“That stretch and having that success gives me the confidence I can go out there and get big-league hitters out,” he said.
Sale healthy, excited
The combination of reuniting with the FGCU guys, better health, and having good stuff in the spring have Sale, 33, a seven-time all-star in a good mood as he prepares to start the Red Sox's second game of the season on Saturday vs. the Orioles.
He even joked in a TV interview “I’ve just got to drive home safe” in regards to fracturing his wrist while riding on his bicycle last summer.
When asked if he was excited as Sale, Cora quickly responded with a yes.
"He’s never thrown this hard this early,” the manager added.
After allowing two runs and five hits in five innings Sunday in his last spring training outing, Sale told Boston media he focused on getting better, improving his mechanics.
“I was cruising then I got in trouble and had to get out of it,” he said. “I just have to take it up north and keep it rolling.”
Injuries led to Sale pitching in just 11 games in 2021 and 2022. He didn’t pitch at all in 2020. So this season he's trying to regain the form that made him one of the game's best starters from 2012 when he went 17-8 with the Chicago White Sox to 2018 when he went 12-4 with a 2.11 ERA and .86 WHIP with the Red Sox.
“It’s been a long time, and I'm happy to have this opportunity to start the season healthy and give my team a chance to win,” Sale said. “It’s something I haven’t been able to do for a few years. It’s what I’ve been wanting to do. It’s been eating at me.”
Crawford said he trained with Sale at the Red Sox complex in 2018.
What impressed him most?
“How he goes about his business, making sure he gets his work in and how he treats people,” he said. “He has quite the resume. You’d think he’d have a lot bigger ego. He treats everyone the same. That goes a long way.”
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Former FGCU stars Richard Bleier, Chris Sale, Kutter Crawford break camp with Red Sox