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Bauer Getting a Shot to Prove He Belongs

Bauer Getting a Shot to Prove He Belongs

| On 18, May 2014

The Cleveland Indians wasted little time on Friday afternoon to announce that starter Trevor Bauer was selected to replace struggling pitcher Danny Salazar in the starting rotation for the foreseeable future.

The move comes as little surprise as Salazar has racked up high pitch counts while showing an inability to consistently throw several of his pitches for strikes. His problems have had a trickle down effect on the entire team, as his poor starts have led to losses in five of the eight games he has appeared in and have forced the bullpen to eat up extra innings while putting the offense in a position to press to make up for early numbers on the scoreboard.

Bauer, meanwhile, has earned the chance with a strong start to his season at Triple-A Columbus.

Salazar has been a confusing story on the mound. After being limited in his pitch count last season as the team pushed onward to the postseason, the 24-year-old was free to pitch without restriction this season. Salazar, however, has been his own worst enemy.

In half of his starts this season, he has failed to complete the fifth inning. All four of those appearances led to losses for the club and for Salazar. In the other four games, he has pitched into the seventh inning just twice and just once completed the frame.

For the most part, he has continued to impress with an ability to strike out batters, even though his strikeouts per nine innings rate is actually down one full strikeout from last season. His control has been a bigger problem. He has missed spots badly at times, leading to eight home runs allowed in eight starts, including a pair in his final start on Thursday against Toronto, when he lasted just four innings and threw 98 pitches.

Only in 2010, in seven games at Lake County, did Salazar average more than one home run allowed per nine innings and he was quickly lost for that season and most of 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. This season, his average is at 1.8.

Salazar has already walked more batters this season (17) than he did in his ten starts last season (15), despite throwing eleven and one-third fewer innings. He is averaging 3.8 walks per nine innings, up from his 2.6 last season at the Major League level and his 2.3 average at Akron and Columbus in 21 games in 2013.

“He’s kind of gotten away from locating his fastball down,” said Indians manager Terry Francona prior to Friday’s loss to Oakland. “His breaking ball has been inconsistent. There’s been some really good ones and some that aren’t, and he’s kind of gotten away from his changeup. That was one of his best pitches.”

In his career, Salazar has allowed right-handed hitters to bat at a .287 clip. He has been better against lefties, limiting them to a .232 average, but has walked 20 of them compared to 12 righties in almost an identical number of plate appearances against each.

Salazar has been incapable of winning on the road as well. In ten career starts away from Progressive Field, he is 0-6 with a 4.28 ERA. By comparison, through eight home starts he is 3-1 with a 4.06 ERA.

Each time through the lineup, the opposition has hit him better and better. In a player’s first plate appearance of the game against Salazar, he has 57 strikeouts and has held the opposition to a .226 average, despite allowing nine of his 15 career long balls in these at bats. The second time through, opposing players hit .245. In more than half as many chances to face batters a third time, their strikeout-to-walk rate falls 1.38 points to 2.20 strikeouts per walk and they hit on average at a .348 mark, indicating adjustments being made by the other team or Salazar’s problems with elevated pitch counts and control.

It may have been a surprising move for some to demote the young right-hander, thought to be a potential front of the rotation piece for the Indians for many years to come. Such a move could have a damaging effect to Salazar’s psyche. But, with the team already setting up residence in the cellar of the American League Central Division and eight and a half games behind the team with the AL’s best record, the Detroit Tigers, entering play on Saturday, Cleveland could not afford to wait for Salazar to figure out his problems on the mound with the big league club.

“We tried to make the decision based on Danny and we thought sending him to Triple-A, allowing him to work on what he needs to work on, will benefit him there,” said Francona, “because right now, when he’s making mistakes, he’s paying for it and not getting real deep in games. It’s kind of hurting the bullpen, also.

“I’m telling you, he’s going to be a good Major League pitcher. He will be back and he will be good. You try to make moves when they make sense and try not to react on emotion. The end-all was what’s in his best interests. Obviously, we care about the team, but we tried to make the decision based on Danny.”

The decision to move Salazar to Columbus may have been made that much easier by the impressive start of Bauer for the Clippers.

Bauer will join the Major League club on Tuesday, with a yet-to-be determined roster move needed to add him to the 25-man roster. The move will likely involve a bullpen arm, whether it be pitcher T.J. House, who was just recalled to replace C.C. Lee in the bullpen, 2013 draft pick Kyle Crockett, who was recalled from Double-A Akron on Friday, or another player who would have to be cut loose from the ball club.

It will be the second trip to the Indians roster this season for Bauer, who made an impressive spot start in a doubleheader on April 9th against the San Diego Padres. He allowed just two runs, one of which was earned, on four hits. He walked two and struck out eight in his six innings of work and earned a tough luck loss in the 2-1 final.

Unlike last season, when Bauer made four different spot starts for Cleveland, he will get a more extended look in the rotation.

He has provided the Indians organization with a different look and much better results on the mound than the club saw last season when he appeared to be dealing with control problems and mechanical adjustments on the mound.

Bauer was 1-2 for Cleveland last season with a 5.29 ERA. He lost his first start of the season in Tampa, 6-0, in a game of skewed results. He allowed an impressive two hits over five innings, but walked seven Rays hitters and left the game after being charged with three earned runs.

His next outing was similar in its bizarre box score line. On May 1st against Philadelphia, he pitched five innings and threw 93 pitches. He allowed just one hit, but surrendered six free passes while striking out five. The Indians won, 6-0, to earn him his first win with Cleveland.

Twelve days later, he allowed three runs (two earned) on six hits in six and one-third innings against the New York Yankees. His walk rate was much improved, as he gave up just two bases on balls while striking out four in the second game of a doubleheader. After allowing a first inning run, he settled down and did not allow another runner to cross the plate until the top of the seventh, when a one-out double plated the second run of the game. Nick Hagadone allowed the runner he inherited from Bauer to score two batters later.

Bauer was shelled in his final outing against the White Sox on June 28th in the first game of a doubleheader in Chicago. He allowed two hits to start the game before a sacrifice fly scored the first run. A two-run home run by Adam Dunn made the score 3-0 and after another out, he gave up a home run to Jeff Keppinger. A single, an RBI double, a hit by pitch, a wild pitch, and a walk followed before he exited the game.

Bauer was 1-2 with a 6.06 ERA in four starts for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012. He pitched past the fourth inning just once in his debut season and there were some who wondered about the logic of rushing Bauer to the Majors as quickly as the Diamondbacks had. He had been selected by Arizona with the third pick of the first round in the 2011 draft just one year prior.

He has been questioned and/or criticized for his unique pregame habits, which would have been moot points if his early production would have matched the lofty expectations on him. So far this season, the results on the field have to have lived up to the hopes the Indians had when they acquired him as part of a three-team trade in December of 2012.

The Bauer who has showed up in Columbus and in one spot start in Cleveland has been a completely different pitcher than the man on the mound in his previous two professional seasons.

The 23-year-old right-hander has pitched into the sixth inning in all eight of his starts this season. He has thrown between 96 and 108 pitches in any start. He has walked no more than three batters in any one game and three different times has struck out nine batters in a start.

His final start on May 13th against the Rochester Red Wings was the lone blemish on his stat sheet this season. He still pitched into the sixth inning, but allowed six runs on nine hits with three walks. He hit one batter and struck out four. He allowed four home runs in the game, which looks like a strange anomaly to the one other home run he had allowed on the season.

In addition to his 0-1 record with a 1.50 ERA in Cleveland, he is 4-1 with a 2.15 ERA in seven starts this season at Columbus. Bauer will have some extra rest before his return to the Big Leagues, as Sunday would have been his day in the rotation if sticking to regular rest.

He is scheduled to start on Tuesday against the Tigers in a significant May match up against the Tribe’s chief divisional rival.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images