Bauer Has Turned Career Around Over Past Year

One year ago, Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer was nowhere near the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Some wondered if he would survive the season as a starter. A move to the bullpen could have been in the offing. Some wondered if he would ever fulfill the promise of a young player selected third overall in the 2011 amateur draft.

On July 16, 2017, Bauer lost in Oakland in his first start after the All-Star break. It dropped his record to 7-8 and his ERA stood at 5.59. The Indians were on their way to a second straight American League Central Division crown. With the way Bauer was pitching, the prevailing thought in mid-July of last season was that he would perhaps be a reliever on the coming postseason roster if the team survived the rest of the regular season. It was a precipitous fall for a pitcher thrust into a high-profile role during the Tribe’s 2016 remarkable playoff run to the World Series.

A year ago, no one could have foreseen what was to come for the final two months of the season or that the late-season turnaround would serve as the coming of age for a pitcher who is now one of the game’s elite pitching talents.

Bauer closed out July with a sterling one-run, eight-inning outing against the Blue Jays. It was his second straight win, pushing his record to 9-8. His ERA was still an unsightly 5.25. A lot of Tribe fans were not convinced Bauer had turned a corner. They had seen this before. Since arriving in Cleveland in 2013, the sometimes temperamental pitcher with an odd pre-game routine would often show flashes of brilliance and the hurler he could be, only to fall flat shortly after. He could never put it all together for any long length of time.

Through much of the first four months of 2017, Bauer was taking something of a beating on local sports talk and in print. He would have the last laugh. Even the most cynical of Tribe fans had to finally view Bauer as a very good starting pitcher by last year’s end.

That late-July outing against Toronto was the start of what is now a year-long journey toward stardom. In August and September he went 8-1 with a 2.57 ERA. He finished the season 17-9 and was Cleveland’s starting pitcher to open the ALDS against the New York Yankees. The victory total was just one off the league lead, shared by teammates Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. Kluber was on his way to a second Cy Young award last season, while Carrasco would be fourth in that voting. By the time 2017 came to a close, Bauer was starting to be mentioned as nearly in their class. However, he still had to prove that he could keep the good times rolling beyond just a very good two months and strong postseason showing.

Bauer has done that this season and then some. Through the first three-plus months of this campaign, Bauer has been Cleveland’s most consistent and arguably its best starting pitcher. He is among the league leaders in several categories, earning his first All-Star selection. His 2.23 ERA is tied for second in the American League and fourth in all of baseball. His strikeout total of 168 is fourth in the Majors. If not for a suspect bullpen, Bauer would have far better than his 8-6 win-loss record. He has been one of the game’s best pitchers, really since the end of last July. If you go back to that last rough July start against the Jays, Bauer has a 2.30 ERA in his last 32 games (31 starts). His record in that stretch is 17-7 with 253 strikeouts in 207 innings and a 1.13 WHIP.

One big thing that Bauer has improved on this season is pitching deeper into games. He often had trouble in the past going much beyond five or six frames. This year has been a completely different story. He has pitched into the seventh or further 14 of 19 starts. He has 15 quality starts, including seven in a row, as he heads into a big start this afternoon against the New York Yankees.

Bauer has been great all season, but he will get a tough test against the Bronx Bombers. New York entered Saturday third in the big leauges in runs scored. They are mashing the ball at a historic home run pace. Bauer was dazzling against them in Game 1 of last year’s postseason series. He will look to close out the first half, at least in terms of pre-All-Star break, on a high note for himself and for the Central Division-leading Indians.

Pitching on Sunday, he may not get to take a throw in Tuesday’s Midsummer Classic. He wants to be available if needed, in case of extra innings. Even on short rest, he would like to pitch in the game that he has worked his whole life to get to. Finally, at age 27, Bauer has become the star many thought he could be during his days at UCLA.

Bauer deserves to be among the elites this week in Washington, D.C., even if it is only for a pre-game tip of his cap. He will get to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, during introductions, with teammates and fellow All-Stars Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley, Jose Ramirez and Kluber. Kluber, due to a knee injury, will not be pitching in the All-Star Game. His battery mate, Yan Gomes, was just added to the team as well on Saturday night.

What a difference a year makes. One year ago, many rightly wondered if Bauer could ever be a really good pitcher. Now, some wonder only what took so long. It seems there is no looking back now. Bauer is an All-Star and seems destined to be so multiple times. As the Indians look to win a third straight division crown, Bauer will be one of the important players down the stretch. He and Kluber have formed a fearsome one-two punch this season and appear headed to spear-head a stacked rotation in another October of Indians baseball.

Bauer has gone from blue-chip prospect, to head-strong young player, to budding star though what is now parts of six seasons with the Tribe. He has grown a lot under the guidance of great manager Terry Francona. The only thing left for Bauer to do as he continues to mature into the great pitcher that he seems to be turning into is get into the Cy Young conversation. That could very well happen this year if he keeps going on this current year-long path. If he closes out 2018 as strong as he has begun it, he will surely be mentioned as a favorite for the game’s top pitching hardware.

No longer are fans disgruntled with Bauer for his efforts on the field. It is quite the opposite these days as he is almost becoming a fan favorite. Bauer has arrived on the scene in a big way and the days of unsightly stats appear to be over.

Photo: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

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