Cerebral Bauer unable to explain recent success

With strong showing in KC, righty has another solid start to break down

August 19th, 2017

KANSAS CITY -- loves to dive head-first into data. He can cite the spin rates of his pitches and will roll his eyes when a tracking system misreads something that leaves his right hand. Not only does Bauer work with the Indians to gather as much information as possible, the pitcher also employs a research assistant.

In the Indians' 5-0 victory over the Royals on Saturday night, Bauer continued his recent run of dominance on the mound -- a month-long sample that he is currently deciphering in an effort to sustain the success. For all the numbers he has crunched and slow-motion video he has studied, Bauer also knows there is and always will be one cold-hard fact about the game of baseball.

"It makes no sense," Bauer said.

There was laughter around the pitcher when he uttered those four words, but his expression remained unchanged. A layer of frustration exists right now for the pitcher, given the perplexing nature of his season. Take Saturday's outing, for example. Bauer logged 6 1/3 innings and did not relinquish a run -- all while searching for his curveball and never feeling quite right on the mound.

According to Statcast™, seven of the eight hardest-hit balls in the game via exit velocity came on Bauer pitches. Bauer had only four strikeouts and dealt with at least one baserunner in each inning he worked, but the results still tilted in his favor.

"It's backward," Bauer said. "I wasn't sharp. I didn't punch people out. I had a lot of balls hit hard. And no runs. So I don't know. I'll take it."

There is one factor involved that can't really be quantified.

Within Cleveland's clubhouse and out on the diamond, you would be hard-pressed to find someone more competitive than Bauer. That was even evident behind the scenes on Friday, when manager Terry Francona brought a Pop-A-Shot basketball game into the locker room for the players. Francona quipped that Bauer would probably keep shooting until he beat everyone.

"He doesn't back down," Francona said. "In big situations, he's kind of coming through more often than not. I think a lot of it is just because he likes competing."

That showed up during an eight-pitch battle with with two on and one out in the sixth. Bauer started the Royals' shortstop with some offspeed pitches, then read Escobar's body language. In a critical point in the game, Bauer felt confident that Escobar was not going to be able to catch up to his fastball.

Moments later, Bauer walked off the field after an inning-ending double play that preserved Cleveland's 4-0 lead.

"He was kind of leaning out there," Bauer said. "So he's basically telling me that he was slowing down, looking for something offspeed. So once I knew that, I was like, 'All right, I'm going to throw fastballs and make you hit that until you show me that you're speeding up.' He didn't."

Over his last five starts, Bauer has turned in a 1.54 ERA with 37 strikeouts against seven walks in 35 innings. The right-hander has continued to lean heavily on a curveball/four-seam fastball mix -- an approach he began in late May -- and the results have been strong. Dating back to June 7, Bauer has lowered his ERA to 4.50 from 6.10.

Baseball can be confounding, but Bauer will continue to try to make sense of it.

"I've been getting the feedback and the results from a research assistant and talking about it," Bauer said of his last month. "There's some really interesting stuff that we're looking at -- nothing definitive yet. But it's good to have a sustained period of success to try to model success off."