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D-backs equipping Bauer for long-term success

TUC View Full Game Coverage SON, Ariz. -- Trevor Bauer's throw started in front of the Desert Diamond Casino banner in left field, zoomed past the Casa Mazatlan pawn shop sign on the wall in left-center, climbed above the white 405-ft marker in dead center, and soared over the GEICO advertisement in right-center before landing in the glove of his teammate standing in front of a billboard for Goodwill of Southern Arizona below the foul pole in right field.

It was 6:35 p.m. MST at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, the home of the Tucson Padres, and the D-backs pitching prospect was in the middle of the stretching and throwing ritual he starts about 70 minutes before he takes the mound.

Bauer kicked off the routine with a series arm stretches, first with his right and then with his left, followed by more yoga-like stretching before the long, long throws across the outfield and the relay throws to get the ball back to him.

The trajectories of Bauer's famous long-toss sessions have gained national attention since he was drafted by the D-backs out of UCLA last June, but it's his career arc that has the locals feeling giddy. Bauer's path could land him at Chase Field sometime this summer, but for now, the young right-hander was warming up 120 miles south of Phoenix with the Triple-A Reno Aces. He's honing his craft and reinforcing the notion that being different from the crowd isn't bad and what others consider "Freak-like" can sometimes be a good thing.

"I can control how hard I work and how I prepare and how I sleep and how I eat," Bauer said. "Promotion, no promotion, cut or whatever. I don't want to think about it. I play baseball and I pitch every fifth day, and whatever team I am on, that's what I'm going to do."

The D-backs' goal sounds simple: The organization just wants Bauer to be himself -- and be completely healthy -- for 200 innings and 30 starts each season in the big leagues for a long, long time.

"The thing about this kid is he has three plus-pitches," Aces manager Brett Butler said. "Does he have big league stuff? Yes, absolutely. Can he go up tomorrow and win at the big league level? Yes, he could. Is he ready for that? I would say no, and the reason I would say that is because the one thing he is learning about is how to manage the game."

Bauer's nine-pitch repertoire is already legendary. But there is some concern that he throws too many pitches, especially when he doesn't have to, and the practice is resulting in high pitch counts. A high pitch count leads to shorter outings, and short outings by starting pitchers leads to taxed bullpens.

It's an inefficient formula that can be disastrous during a season and devastating over the course of a career.

It's a trap the D-backs are hoping Bauer avoids. The pitcher's view of the term "game management" is that it's a catch-all phrase that does not cover the complexities of pitching efficiently.

"The one thing he has to do is he has to get to a point where he has to understand if he is going to be a flare or firework that shows up in the big leagues with a 'Boom' and then he fizzles," Butler said. "Here's a guy that is going to have to recognize and learn -- and he is learning -- that to pitch 30 or 35 starts in the big leagues over a period of 162 games will take a toll."

That's not to say Butler wants to change who Bauer is. He appreciates that the young pitcher can operate comfortably high in the strike zone and he doesn't seem to mind Bauer takes 45-50 warmup pitches before games. The manager also appreciates Bauer's individuality and believes Bauer is a modern-day Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, the 1976 Rookie of the Year who was known for his personality as much as his pitching.

Butler has also heard the comparisons to San Francisco's Tim "Freak" Lincecum because Bauer has a similar build and an unorthodox delivery like the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner. The comparisons appear bittersweet.

Lincecum is 2-6 with a 5.83 ERA this season. Last year, the Giants right-hander finished with a record below .500 for the first time in his career.

"Here's a guy that was 94-95 mph and now he's 90 and 89 and I want you to know that they have ridden that horse," Butler said. "I don't care who you are. [Bauer] is a little bit bigger than Lincecum, but the management part, I don't know if he has thought about it or not, but when you go out there in college and you throw 130 or 140 pitches, that's OK, but you can't do that every single week every five days and not expect to wear yourself out. It's our responsibility to educate and teach him that."

So far this season, Bauer, the No. 1-ranked prospect in the organization, is 10-1 with a 1.80 ERA. He went 7-1 with a 1.68 ERA in eight starts for the Double-A Mobile before his promotion to Reno, and he continues to succeed on the higher level, improving to 3-0 with a 1.97 ERA in Triple-A after dealing seven shutout innings in his fifth start for Reno on Friday.

"That was one of my best games stuff-wise," he said. "I had everything working. I'm happy with it. That's what I expect out of myself every time I go out there."

It's hard to blame Bauer if he looked ahead to the Major Leagues, or the D-backs fans for wanting him at Chase Field. The D-backs, last year's NL West champions, have struggled all season and are looking for a bright spot. Earlier this week, D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said he will not force Bauer's arrival to the big leagues.

"I'm 21 years old and I'm still working on stuff," Bauer said. "That's part of my development: being able to execute my pitches and have better command of my pitches. If I execute my pitches better, I have better game management."

In the meantime, Bauer and the D-backs will continue to work on his game, hoping to impact his present and his long-term future. D-backs fans hoping to catch a glimpse of Bauer this month might want to consider looking up the Aces' schedule.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Trevor Bauer