Positive Results Starting to Come For Bauer

Over the first five weeks of the season, Trevor Bauer was not having a lot of luck. In five of his first six starts, Bauer gave up four or more earned runs. That would mess with a lot of pitchers, mentally, but not Bauer.

After his sixth start of the season, a 4-2 loss in Toronto where he gave up four earned runs in six innings, Bauer said he was making good pitches all season, that they were just being hit. He felt it was a case of bad luck rather than bad pitching. The start before that, he had surrendered seven scores to the Detroit Tigers.

Perhaps the 26-year-old was on to something. Over his last three outings, Bauer has fared much better. He has given up three runs or less in each of those contests. Bauer has pitched into the sixth inning in all three as well. Two of those starts came against first place teams in the form of the surprising Minnesota Twins and the Houston Astros, who have the game’s best record. He gave up six runs in eleven and two-thirds frames to two of the American League’s top ball clubs.

The other strong start in this little run came Wednesday against the Reds. He tossed five and one-third innings, allowing two runs on four hits while striking out six Cincinnati batters. The other Ohio team has put up a good amount of runs this year, so limiting them to two tallies was a very good showing.

Bauer has gone 2-0 over his his last three starts. He would have won all three if not for Cody Allen suffering a rare blown save on Wednesday. After that Blue Jays game on May 8, Bauer was 2-4 with a 7.36 ERA. There were murmurs of moving him to the bullpen, where he started last season, in favor of the emerging Mike Clevinger. Clevinger, filling in for injured number one starter Corey Kluber, has looked improved over his 2016 rookie season and was thought to have a shot to stick around for a little longer as Kluber and Josh Tomlin were having early-season struggles.

Now, Bauer is 4-4 and has lowered his ERA by more than a full run to 6.30. His standing in the starting rotation seems pretty safe now, once Kluber returns from the disabled list later in the week.

It is not as though Bauer is pitching lights out, but he is now keeping the Indians in ball games and giving his squad a chance to win when he takes the mound. As the team’s No. 4 starter, that really is all he needs to do. He doesn’t need to shut people out or go seven or eight innings as would be expected from Kluber or Carlos Carrasco at the top of the rotation. If Bauer can give up three runs and go six innings, that would put him high in the pecking order among back of the rotation hurlers in the league.

Three runs in six innings equates to a 4.50 ERA, which has been essentially where Bauer has been over the course of his career. He has had hot stretches and cold stretches, but generally has been able to be a dependable fourth or fifth starter for the Tribe since 2014. In his three full seasons before this one, Bauer had had ERAs of 4.55 in 2015, 4.18 in 2014 and 4.26 last year.

There are fans who feel like Bauer, being a former first round pick, should be able to do much more. He has shown flashes of what made him the third overall pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks. This year, he is striking out an average of 10.62 batters per nine innings, so his stuff has been dominant at times. He just needs to be able to hone in on what he can do for full games and seasons. He seems to lose focus or confidence in what is working and falls into bad habits.

Until or if Bauer can get to that level, however, just getting back to last season’s form would be a big help to Indians rotation. Last year, Bauer enjoyed his best Major League campaign when he went 12-8 with that 4.26 ERA. He pitched 190 innings and was durable in a season where that was truly needed. Other than his self-induced drone injury last postseason, Bauer has been very durable, not suffering any sort of major arm injury.

The ability to take the mound every five days and keep a quality group of hitters in the Tribe lineup within striking distance is all the Indians need. The rotation already has a former Cy Young in Kluber, an ace-like starter in Carrasco and a 2016 All-Star in Danny Salazar. Bauer, though he does have quality stuff, does not need to be an ace on a ball club like the Tribe has.

The Indians count on Bauer and Tomlin to simply be complementary starters and be able to eat innings. If either or both can be on a roll, it gives the Tribe rotation, when fully health, as good a starting five as any in the game. Bauer was not putting his team in a good position to win games early in the season. He has turned that around.

Some fans and media members thought, in early May, that Bauer had a date with the bullpen. They thought he simply did not have it this year. Bauer did not waiver in his faith in himself. He felt strong and thought he was making the pitches that he needed to.

In baseball, strange things can happen that cause a player’s numbers to not reflect how they actually may be performing. Bauer’s numbers are now trending towards where he is used to being and towards the way that he thought he was pitching. If he can stay this course, he should not hear the rumblings of being moved to the ‘pen again and should be able to help the Tribe towards what it hopes to be a second straight season of playoff baseball.

Photo: Ron Schwane/Getty Images

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