CLEVELAND -- There were plenty of times in past seasons when Trevor Bauer was unpredictable. It was hard to know which version of the pitcher would show up. On Wednesday, there was no one the Indians would rather have on the mound on the heels of three tough losses.
Bauer has become increasingly unpredictable for hitters, but Cleveland has come to know what it can expect from its starter in his breakout campaign. In a 4-0 victory over the red-hot Pirates at Progressive Field, Bauer provided the latest in a string of overpowering outings this season, leading the Tribe back to the win column.
"He's come so far," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It's not like it's a big secret. He made the All-Star team and things like that, but he has really turned himself into one of the best pitchers in the game."
The abbreviated four-inning start that Bauer turned in on Friday in Texas proved to be an anomaly. He complained of always struggling in his first turn out of the All-Star break, and his 8.27 career ERA in such outings backs up that claim.
Bauer was back on track against the Pirates, who struck out 10 times against the right-hander and saw their 11-game winning streak halted. Bauer spent the first two games of the series studying the Pittsburgh lineup, which pounded out 16 runs in two victories over the Tribe. He felt that helped him formulate a plan for stopping their momentum.
"There's no shortfall of gravitas with them," Bauer said. "They're super comfortable in the box, super confident, and they're getting their arms extended on a lot of stuff, putting the barrel on balls.Try to adjust. The nice thing about throwing everything is hitters can't hit everything.
"You get a really good report on them watching them two games in a row, threw the stuff they hadn't seen yet, at least the first time through. I was able to avoid the Falcon Heavy launches today."
Over seven-plus innings, Bauer limited Pittsburgh to two hits. Adam Frazier -- who replaced Starling Marte after the latter was struck on the left hand by a Bauer pitch in the first inning -- doubled to lead off the fourth. The Tribe starter retired the next three hitters in order. In the eighth, Jordy Mercer led off with a single to left.
Following Mercer's hit, Francona removed Bauer, who walked off to a rousing standing ovation and hoisted his cap in appreciation. Adam Cimber and Brad Hand -- both acquired from the Padres on Thursday -- finished the frame. Cimber gave up a hit but then generated a double play, while Hand entered and struck out Frazier to strand a runner at third. Hand then threw a scoreless ninth to register his first save with Cleveland.
"Taking my innings away from me," Bauer quipped about Cimber and Hand. "They're good. That's what we got them to do, you know? Come in and shut the game down. That's exactly what they did. It's great to see. I'm happy that they were able to finish it off, because we need to win ballgames."
The American League Central-leading Indians (55-46) did just enough against Pirates starter Jameson Taillon, who worked seven solid innings. The lone breakthrough came courtesy of a two-run single by Edwin Encarnacion in the third. Taillon struck out five, scattered seven hits and held the Indians to a 1-for-7 showing with runners in scoring position.
In the eighth, Yonder Alonso padded Cleveland's lead with a two-run homer off Pittsburgh lefty Felipe Vazquez. Going into the game, Alonso was batting just .216 (16-for-74) off left-handers. The clout, his fourth off a lefty this season, was the 16th of the season for the Indians first baseman.
"That was a nice piece of hitting by Yonder," Francona said. "That kid came in firing it."
That showing by the offense was sufficient in helping Bauer improve to 9-6 with a 2.32 ERA on the season. He racked up at least 10 strikeouts for the ninth time this season, tying him with Boston's Chris Sale for the most such games in the AL. Only Nationals ace Max Scherzer (10) has more in the Majors.
With the showing against the Pirates, Bauer remained atop the MLB leaderboard in Wins Above Replacement (5.4, per Fangraphs).
"Trevor Bauer was as advertised," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's had a strong season to date. We've seen this guy be dynamic before. He had his pitches working, the spin pitches."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Walk the walk: Bauer encountered some trouble in the seventh, when he issued a leadoff walk to Gregory Polanco before later putting Josh Bell on with a one-out free pass. That prompted a visit to the mound by pitching coach Carl Willis. Clinging to the two-run lead, Bauer recovered by striking out David Freese and inducing an inning-ending groundout off the bat of Sean Rodriguez.
"They're so aggressive and they all kind of got hot at the same time," Francona said of the Pirates' lineup. "He slowed them down. He threw a lot of breaking balls for strikes, worked ahead. He lost the plate a couple times, but man, he competes like nobody's business. When he starts to get himself into a jam, he pitches his way out of it."
Yes way, Jose: After reaching first base on a fielder's choice groundout, Jose Ramirez collected his 21st steal of the season by swiping second. That altered what was a two-out situation with runners on the corners, providing a pair of runners in scoring position for Encarnacion. The slugger made the most of Ramirez's 90-foot sprint with a single to center that brought both runners in, giving Cleveland a 2-0 advantage.
"Josey affects the game in so many ways, even when he's not getting a hit," Francona said. "They have to respect him at the plate, he takes his walks, steals a base."
HE SAID IT
"He does a good job with the tunneling, making every pitch look like it's coming out of the same slot. You kind of have to make your decisions earlier than against most guys. He had sharp stuff today. ... He's got those three pitches he mostly threw me. They all go in different directions. He was on today." -- Pirates third baseman Colin Moran, on Bauer
• Bauer has recorded at least seven strikeouts in 12 consecutive starts, which is tied for the second-longest streak of that kind in Indians history. Sam McDowell also has a dozen straight starts with seven or more strikeouts across the 1965-66 seasons. Corey Kluber holds the club record with 14 such outings in a row in 2017.
• Bauer now boasts a 0.33 ERA (one earned run in 27 2/3 innings) this season Interleague Play. Per the Indians, that represents the second-lowest ERA by an MLB pitcher (min. 20 innings) since Interleague Play began in 1997, trailing only Garrett Richards' 0.32 mark in 2014 for the Angels.
Right-hander Carlos Carrasco (12-5, 4.03 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound for the Tribe on Friday, when the Tigers host the Indians at 7:10 p.m. ET at Comerica Park in the opener of a three-game set. Carrasco is 5-3 with a 3.26 ERA in nine road starts this season. Detroit will counter with righty Mike Fiers (7-6, 3.49 ERA).