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Countdown to Opening Day – 47
With five years under his professional belt at the Major League level, the Indians will once again look for big contributions from Trevor Bauer in their starting rotation.
After losing his spot last spring, the right-hander pitched in relief through much of April before getting reinserted into the rotation when Cody Anderson struggled with his effectiveness and Carlos Carrasco landed on the disabled list with a sprained left hamstring. While his numbers out of the bullpen (1-0 record, 4.76 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, .289 batting average against in 11 1/3 innings) did not scream of a player necessarily deserving of a shot to start again, Bauer plugged the leak in the rotation with a 5-2 record, one complete game, a 2.96 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, and a .216 average against in a two-month span from the end of April to the end of June, once again reminding the baseball world that Cleveland manager Terry Francona knows a thing or two about how to successfully manage a roster.
In one of his finer contributions in 2016, Bauer entered in the 15th inning on July 1 against the Toronto Blue Jays with the team’s 13-game winning streak on the line. Pitching on short notice and short rest (he was scheduled to start the following day), he threw five scoreless innings, giving up two hits and three walks while striking out three and giving the Indians an opportunity to win the game in the 19th, when Carlos Santana slugged a solo homer and Bauer finished the bottom half of the inning to extend the team’s winning streak to 14 straight.
Unfortunately, over his next 16 starts, Bauer did not get the same results on the mound. His personal four-game winning streak came to an end in his next outing, when he allowed five runs on eight hits in five and two-thirds innings in a loss at home to New York. He allowed 15 earned runs (17 total runs) over his final 21 innings in July. He was hit-or-miss in his six August starts, throwing two scoreless outings of six innings or more, two more quality starts (including his 13-strikeout, eight-inning effort in a no-decision against the Blue Jays on August 19), and two more challenging outings (including an eight-run, five-walk appearance in two and two-thirds innings in his first start of the month and a two-homer, four-run game over six innings against the Los Angeles Angels on August 14).
The runs and home runs continued into September and his one October start, as he allowed 27 runs over his final 38 regular season innings (6.39 ERA in those six starts). Five balls left the yard and the opposition hit .278 against him.
While his season ended with his numbers trending in the wrong direction some and his inning total already exceeding his previous career high at the Major League level (but still nine innings short of his professional career high between Cleveland and Triple-A Columbus in 2014), the team needed him all the more in the postseason as both Carrasco and Danny Salazar were out of the rotation with injuries.
Bauer started Game 1 of the playoffs against the Boston Red Sox and gave the club four and two-thirds innings, allowing three runs on six hits (two homers) with no walks and six strikeouts in the win. His fluke finger injury sustained in a drone accident bumped him back to an abbreviated Game 3 start of the ALCS against Toronto and he failed to make it out of the first as the stitched finger bled over the Rogers Centre mound.
He started Game 2 and Game 5 of the World Series against the Chicago Cubs, taking the loss in each outing while throwing a combined seven and two-thirds innings while giving up five runs on 12 hits with two walks and nine strikeouts. He was the last pitcher to throw for the Tribe in 2016, taking over for reliever Bryan Shaw in the tenth inning while retiring both men he faced to keep it a two-run game at the time in what would be an 8-7 heartbreaker to close out the season.
Bauer finished his sixth professional season overall with a 12-8 record, a 4.26 ERA, and a 1.31 WHIP during his 35 regular season appearances (including 28 starts and one complete game) and was 0-2 in the playoffs with a 5.27 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in five games (four starts).
With a shorter offseason than normal to recover from the grind of a grueling championship hunt, Bauer’s young and healthy arm will be put back to the test with the short turnaround. His fingers may have gotten the bulk of the attention dedicated to him in the winter due to his penchant for speaking his mind on Twitter, but his focus to recovery and conditioning will put him in good shape for his warm up in Goodyear, Arizona.
Now with 100 career appearances (92 starts) in the Majors, the 26-year-old will be looked to for consistency in the Indians rotation. With Corey Kluber, Carrasco, and Salazar in front of him and Josh Tomlin behind him, Cleveland will need more of the early Bauer from 2016 as it looks to win a second consecutive American League pennant and play for all the glory in an October championship series once again.
The former third overall pick of the 2011 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks has not yet developed into the type of pitcher expected of such a high selection, but he has the opportunity to build off of an encouraging season, one in which he overcame the difficulties of losing his spot in the rotation before reclaiming it and pitching effectively in the process. He cut back on his walk rate and his home run rate while giving the Indians what they needed from a middle of the rotation starter. With some high pressure playoff experience now on his resume, Bauer will have another opportunity to show what he is made of on a regular basis as part of a dangerous and feared Indians pitching staff.
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