Gimenez Helping Bauer Reach Untapped Potential

When Roberto Perez went down with a fractured thumb at the end of April, it left the Cleveland Indians scrambling for a backup catcher to starter Yan Gomes.

Perez had only appeared in four games the entire first month of the season as built-in off days and rain outs gave Gomes ample time off and he did not need many nights of rest. That was about to change in May and the Tribe did not have anyone in the organization it truly felt capable of handling the secondary backstop duties.

Cleveland turned to old friend. With Perez headed to the 60-day disabled list, the Indians acquired Chris Gimenez from the Texas Rangers. Gimenez, a journeyman catcher in his seventh Major League season, was going to begin his third go-round with Cleveland.

Gimenez, a 33-year-old, is mostly known for his defense and ability to handle a pitching staff. He will hit the occasional home run, but is mostly mediocre as an offensive player. He is a strong backup catcher, but not exactly an everyday starter on a playoff contender like the Indians. That same exact resume could belong to Perez. The biggest difference between the two is age. Perez is 27 and would seem to be the backup of the future for Cleveland. Thrust into starting duties for a couple months last year when Gomes was out, Perez held his own defensively, and offensively, better than expected at the plate.

That future, however, may now need to go on hold for a little bit. It is now approaching 60 days since Perez suffered his injury during a play at the plate, April 30, in Philadelphia. According to media reports, his rehab is now at the point of throwing and swinging a fungo bat. It would seem he could be ready to play baseball again some time late in July.

Gimenez, however, has almost become indispensable to the Indians, not that he has been a great offensive threat. What Gimenez seems to have done is help transform Trevor Bauer from a talented pitcher who has failed to live up to his third overall pick potential to a pitcher who has been as dominant as anyone in the game over the last month.

Bauer has always had the ability to be one of the game’s better pitchers. His issue has often been in over-thinking the game. Since Gimenez rejoined the Indians on May 4, Bauer has not thrown to another catcher. The results for the 25-year-old have rarely, if ever, been better.

Bauer struggled in spring training and lost his bid for a starting job to Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin. He began the season in the bullpen, where he did not have a lot of success. In six relief outings, he carried a 4.76 ERA. While that was not a disaster, it was not very good either.

On April 24, one of Cleveland’s top starters in Carlos Carrasco injured a hamstring. It thrust Bauer back into starting pitching duties. His first start, oddly enough, was the night Perez got hurt. It was a mediocre game for Bauer, who went four innings and allowed three earned runs. The iffy performance could have been a case of a guy needing to stretch his arm back out to starters’ innings. However, Gimenez caught Bauer in his second start of the year and the results were more encouraging.

Against a tough Detroit lineup, Bauer surrendered three runs in five and two-thirds innings. He was just one out away from a quality start. It was enough for manager Terry Francona to stick with the pitcher-catcher battery for a third straight game. On May 10, against Houston, Bauer had a night to remember. He shut out a team that was a preseason World Series favorite over seven strong innings. That outing seemed to be the one that took Bauer from candidate to return to the bullpen once Carrasco got healthy to entrenched starter.

It also was likely when Francona decided to make the Bauer/Gimenez pairing a permanent thing.

With Gimenez, Bauer has been very good, especially late. During five starts, in May, the righty was 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA. It was a pretty decent month for a guy whose issues dated back to last last year when he was demoted to relief duty in September.

This month has been even better for Bauer. He been nearly untouchable in his five June starts. He is 2-0 with an amazing 1.86 ERA. During June, Bauer has pitched at least seven innings each time he has taken the hill. He has not allowed more than three earned runs in any of those games and that number was only hit once. He allowed two runs in another start. Three times in June, Bauer has surrendered just one earned run, including his last two games. He could be 5-0 for the month if he had gotten a little more run support. As it is, the Indians are 4-1 in games that Bauer has started in June.

Overall, Bauer and Gimenez have been Cleveland’s pitcher/catcher combo ten times. Bauer is 4-2 with a 2.86 ERA. Those are Cy Young Award-caliber numbers.

Bauer has had stretches before where it seemed like he may start to put everything together. Last year, he got off to a torrid start before fading down the stretch. However, it seems Cleveland’s current backup catcher has struck some sort of chord with Bauer. The young starter has now had two months pitching well. That kind of stretch is not often an aberration.

Gimenez and Bauer will likely have another handful of starts together before Perez is fully ready to get back to action. If Bauer continues to excel at or near the level he is now, it will be very difficult for the Indians to jettison Gimenez. Three catchers will likely not be kept on the roster. No team would do that.

Perez does have minor league options so the Indians could feasibly send him to Columbus and let the hot streak for Bauer with Gimenez play out. In a best-case scenario, Bauer continues all season to pitch at a high level and gains the confidence to pitch the same way to any catcher behind the plate in the future. Perez could then resume his catching duties with the Indians next season as the veteran Gimenez likely would not return.

Who knew that when the Indians had to scramble for a new catcher that their solution would also help to solve the riddle that has been Bauer? Thanks to Gimenez, Bauer seems to finally be pitching to the potential that he had when the Diamondbacks made him a top pick of the 2011 amateur draft.

Photo: Ron Schwane/Associated Press

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