Bauer to the Bullpen Could be Best for Bolstering Performance
Laurel Wilder | On 21, Sep 2015
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Perhaps that’s why Indians fans are lucky that Trevor Bauer is young.
Prior to Thursday night’s game against the Kansas City Royals, manager Terry Francona announced that Bauer, a starting pitcher, would be moving to the bullpen for the foreseeable future.
According to Cleveland.com, Bauer took the news well, but told Francona that he hopes this change “isn’t forever.” Francona agreed, saying he and the team envision Bauer “probably” making some starts yet this year, though the timetable is just unknown.
“[R]ather than him sit in limbo, we’ll send him out to the bullpen, because I think it’ll be good for him,” Francona is quoted as saying on Cleveland.com. “And, when he does [start], we’ll give him a heads up so he can have a normal couple of days beforehand.”
Bauer has long been an enigma on the Indians squad, joining the team starting with the 2013 season after he was traded from the Arizona Diamondbacks. It has been said that Bauer didn’t mesh well with the Diamondbacks, and had a poor relationship with his catcher throughout his tenure there. He was billed as being standoffish, distant, and stubborn – not a very good teammate.
In his years with the Tribe, Bauer has seemed to turn some corners. While he developed a questionable reputation after his first year (He went 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA in four Major League games), he came back in 2014 as a much more refined pitcher. He still had his struggles – he walked 60 batters last season and gave up 16 home runs – but he certainly looked more confident on the field. He ended the season with a 5-8 record and 4.18 ERA.
However, Bauer’s biggest deterrent has long been his supposed problem with authority. Bauer has long been known for his cerebral approach to pitching, describing it in terms one typically thinks are reserved for rocket scientists or engineering students. He never seemed comfortable working with a pitching coach or changing his style, and once even claimed he could throw around 10 different pitches. He was known for his unique pre-game warmup routines, such as long toss across the outfield or twirling a long, black tube above his head. Through all of it, Bauer maintained that it worked for him, and that thinking about his pitching and sticking to his routine were going to be all it took.
Over time, though, Bauer seemed to understand that he may need a little more help in the pitching department to get to the level he knew he was capable of pitching at. While he still spoke in high-level terms and maintained his own routines, he seemed to buy in a little more to listening to those around him, though he by no means seemed to be changing his pitching style.
This season, Bauer began looking like the lights-out pitcher he had long been talked-up as possibly being. He also loosened up around the team and fans. During Spring Training, he flew his hand-made drone around the Indians complex in Goodyear, even receiving a warning from Major League Baseball that such actions were not allowed. He seemed more open to criticism and bettering himself.
However, despite his impressive 165 strikeouts this season, Bauer still slipped as the season went on. Bauer is 11-12 with a 4.71 ERA and has gone fewer than four innings in four of his last seven starts. He has walked a career-high 76 batters this season, given up 23 home runs, and 89 total runs.
Bauer has never appeared out of the bullpen before, which could prove to be his saving grace this season. Perhaps the alternative to his typical routine will show him what he was missing earlier this season. The bullpen appearances have helped quite a few other Tribe pitchers find their way in recent seasons. Carlos Carrasco struggled as a starter last season and, after making a number of bullpen appearances, quickly dominated in his starting role again. Josh Tomlin spent time in the ‘pen after coming back from Tommy John surgery, and is now going to be the Tribe’s fifth starter moving forward. Zach McAllister was moved to the bullpen earlier this season, and has proven to be a worthy addition to Tito’s army of relievers.
For Bauer, the uncertainty of the bullpen may be just what he needs to snap into a successful starting mindset. With so much of his performance appearing to be in his own head, a change of pace could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the youngster. He will find himself in new situations, find himself having to adapt to a new style of pitching and play. Whether it’s permanent or not, taking Bauer out of his comfort zone certainly can’t hinder his performance any more than his own mindset already has.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer