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Bauer continually pushing for improvement

Right-hander worked on retooling slider over offseason
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- When Trevor Bauer packed his bags for a vacation in Iceland this past November, the pitcher made sure to include the essentials: His glove and a series of weighted baseballs. Not even a trip across the ocean was going to disrupt his training schedule.

"I have an insatiable desire to work and improve," Bauer said. "I take two days off and I feel guilty. No one will ever outwork me."

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- When Trevor Bauer packed his bags for a vacation in Iceland this past November, the pitcher made sure to include the essentials: His glove and a series of weighted baseballs. Not even a trip across the ocean was going to disrupt his training schedule.

"I have an insatiable desire to work and improve," Bauer said. "I take two days off and I feel guilty. No one will ever outwork me."

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The Indians' 2017 season ended like a punch to the gut against the Yankees in Game 5 of the American League Division Series -- far earlier than anyone on the team expected to experience the winter. Bauer took one day to clean out his locker, pushed any emotions to the side, and was on a mound in Arizona within the next 24 hours to complete his annual end-of-year biomechanics profile.

From there, Bauer's focus was fixed firmly on 2018.

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Even coming off a career year, Bauer was not about to become complacent. He was dissatisfied with how the work on a split-change in the previous winter panned out and knew the slider he featured in the second half of '17 was bred out of survival more than anything else. No, Bauer needed to get right back to work, and his primary objective for this past offeason was developing a reliable slider.

"I want to be the absolute best," Bauer said. "I don't like the fact that there's someone sitting next to me who's better than me -- at anything."

Tweet from @MLBastian: The discussion began with a simple question and ended more than a half-hour later. Trevor Bauer on his offseason training and trying to put his name among the game's elite pitchers: https://t.co/nYR60jIGaY

The wording of Bauer's comments might have been coincidental, but his locker sits only a few stalls away from the one belonging to Indians ace Corey Kluber in the clubhouse at the team's spring complex. Kluber is one of the top pitchers in the game and is coming off a season in which he captured his second career American League Cy Young Award.

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Kluber was also a source of inspiration for Bauer during his winter training.

Three days after Cleveland's season concluded, Bauer sat down with his father, Warren, in California and began discussing which pitches they should study in order to work on a slider. Bauer estimated that their conversation spanned approximately six hours. Once they narrowed their search to the breaking balls of Kluber and Marcus Stroman, it was time to hit the mound.

What followed was a six-hour throwing session, in which Bauer fired a pitch, recorded it in slow motion and then studied the footage frame by frame before throwing again. He placed red push pins in the baseball to help track the movement and toyed around with the grips in an effort to get closer and closer to data similar to Kluber and Stroman. The righty tracked the spin rates, vertical and horizontal movement and velocity, and kept adjusting.

By midnight on that October evening, Bauer found two grips he felt could work. He said the moment the baseball did what he intended was "like a glimmer of hope."

Tweet from @BauerOutage: Get you some spin axis and fluid dynamics in your life pic.twitter.com/fq8FqFkd9w

For much of the following two weeks, Bauer continued to absorb video of the successful sliders, trying to burn the images of the throwing motion into his mind. He began facing batters in early December and spent the bulk of that month alternating between throwing sessions focusing on his slider and changeup. For the latter, he studied the movement profile of the offspeed pitch used by Stephen Strasburg.

"Working on what grip. Where do I put the knuckle? Where do I put the thumb?" Bauer said. "How much do I spike it? How much pressure do I put? Trying to figure out the control points for shifting the axis in the horizontal and vertical plane, so I can get a combination of the two on the axis to make it move the way I want. I did that all of December and then, finally, maybe like the first week of January, I felt like I had the slider moving how I wanted it to."

Last season, Bauer went 17-9 with a 4.19 ERA with 196 strikeouts against 60 walks in 176 1/3 innings for Cleveland, setting career bests in strikeouts per nine innings (10.0) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.3). The right-hander was particularly strong down the stretch, going 10-1 with a 2.60 ERA over his final 14 appearances. That finish was helped by a slider he developed on the fly -- by shifting the placement of his thumb on the ball -- but not one he felt really fit his repertoire.

Video: CLE@CWS: Bauer picks up 15th win behind 6 1/3 strong

Bauer is hopeful that the retooled version of the pitch will help net more consistent results over a full season.

When the Indians acquired Bauer from the D-backs prior to the 2013 season, the young pitcher was embarking on what he admitted was going to be a years-long project. It began with an overhauling of his delivery in an effort to stay healthy. The next phase was to focus on command training and improving velocity. Now, Bauer has moved on to refining specific pitches.

Bauer believes he is closing in on becoming the pitcher he envisioned so many years ago.

"I'm close," he said. "I might be this season, depending on how the slider works out. If I'm able to execute it reliably, then yeah, I'll be back where I envisioned myself."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Trevor Bauer