Bauer Brought Stability to Indians’ Starting Staff in 2016

The fluke finger injury sustained by Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer prior to the start of the American League Championship Series with the Toronto Blue Jays garnered plenty of negative attention to the young right-handed starter, as his pinkie laceration became another blow to a rotation already down two of its top three starting pitchers.

Bauer’s injury may have changed how the ALCS played out, but the Indians remained victorious and the starter was able to return to his role for a pair of World Series starts. Although he was unable to bring home a win in either of those two outings, he did his part to give the Indians everything that he had left to try to bring a second championship to Cleveland, the center of the 2016 sports universe.

While Bauer became an easy target for backlash from fans for the unfortunate outcome of his atypical encounter with one of his drones and his willingness to address his critics on the social media platform Twitter, too many fans forgot the role that Bauer played in helping the Indians even get to the postseason in the first place.

Elsa/Getty Images
Elsa/Getty Images

Bauer was a surprise bump from the starting rotation at the end of spring training, when manager Terry Francona elected to go with Cody Anderson in the fourth spot and Josh Tomlin as his fifth man as the team departed from Goodyear, Arizona. By the numbers, Bauer may have had the best spring of the three, going 1-0 with a 2.14 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in six games, striking out 20 and walking five in 21 innings in camp.

Francona was clear when asked about the decision that Bauer would get a shot at some point. He got exactly that, even if it may have come earlier than those around the team might have hoped and expected.

Anderson got off to a rough start and was optioned to Triple-A before April ended after giving up 17 runs in his first 20 innings over four starts. Compounding that problem significantly, Carlos Carrasco suffered a sprained right hamstring two days before Anderson’s demotion while covering first base during a game on April 24 at Comerica Park in Detroit. Down two starters, Francona was able to turn to his exiled starter to fill one rotation void while using a young and inexperienced option from the minor leagues for the other, instead of relying on two unproven arms to hold together his rotation.

Bauer was 1-0 with a 4.76 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP in six games in relief prior to making his first start on April 30. He would remain in a starting role for the rest of the season, with the lone exception an underrated performance pitching on short rest in an emergency role during the 19-inning marathon game in Toronto on July 1. He took home the win in that outing, a 2-1 contest decided on a homer by Carlos Santana in the final frame that extended the Indians’ franchise record winning streak to 14 games.

While Bauer had some rough outings in relief (he gave up two runs in three of his six appearances), he looked good while getting stretched back out in the rotation. He logged three quality starts in five May outings, going 2-2, before putting together his best month of the season in June when he made six starts and went 3-0 with a 2.01 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP with 43 strikeouts and 12 walks in 44 2/3 innings. He matched a then-season high ten strikeouts in a 6-1 complete game win over Tampa Bay on June 22. He tacked on five innings of scoreless two-hit baseball in that 19-inning game on July 1, when he entered in the 15th inning of that game instead of making his scheduled start the next day.

Whether there was an adverse effect of his 83-pitch relief effort, his numbers spiked the wrong way through the rest of July and into his first start of August as he was tagged for 25 runs (22 earned) in 23 2/3 innings. But after his season-worst eight runs allowed in two and two-thirds innings against Minnesota on August 3, he gave the Indians five quality starts over his next six appearances, including a 13-strikeout performance against Toronto on August 19.

Pool/Getty Images
Pool/Getty Images

Bauer went 3-2 in the final month of the year, but he was aided some by 40 runs of support put up in his final six starts. He allowed at least three runs in every outing, including back-to-back six-run struggles against Chicago and Detroit in the middle of the month.

He finished the regular season with a winning record for the first time in his five big league seasons. In 35 games, he went 12-8 with a 4.26 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. In a career-high 190 innings, he struck out 168 (two short of his career-best set in 2015) and walked 70.

The late season injury to Corey Kluber and the losses of Carrasco and Danny Salazar put Bauer on the mound in Game 1 of the postseason for the Indians against the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series. He worked four and two-thirds innings, giving up solo runs in the first, third, and fifth before turning the game over to the Indians’ dominating bullpen. The Indians won that game and later swept the series.

Bauer’s finger injury prior to the start of the ALCS against Toronto pushed him back to a Game 3 start, but his sutured finger instead bled all over the Rogers Centre mound. He left after just two-thirds of an inning and Cleveland’s bullpen allowed just two runs over the next eight and one-thirds innings in a 4-2 win to put the Indians up 3-0 in a series clinched two games later.

He started Game 2 of the World Series at Progressive Field in a tough matchup with Chicago’s Jake Arrieta. Bauer left with two outs in the fourth with 87 pitches thrown and two runs allowed as the Indians fell 5-1 to tie the series at one. He returned to the mound on short rest for Game 5 and took his second loss of the series as he allowed three runs (all in the fourth inning) on six hits with seven strikeouts and no walks over four innings of work. He was the final Indians pitcher to work in the series when he emerged in relief in the tenth inning of Game 7, getting a strikeout and a flyout to keep it a two-run game.

In the off chance that the Indians look to deal from strength in the offseason to supplement their 2017 roster, Bauer could be a valuable trade piece for the club. The team has several young arms who saw time in Cleveland in a variety of roles (right-handers Anderson, Mike Clevinger, and Adam Plutko, and left-handers Ryan Merritt and Shawn Morimando) who could slot in in the back end of their rotation for next season. Bauer will turn 26 in January and is not set to hit free agency until the completion of the 2020 season, but he is also due for a raise in arbitration this winter.

If the Indians instead elect to hold their starting deck together, the hard-throwing Bauer would be expected back in his fourth spot in the rotation behind Kluber, Carrasco, and Salazar and ahead of Tomlin, giving the Indians a strong starting staff to defend their American League pennant.

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

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