GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Over the last few years, Trevor Bauer has heard it all. He’s rarely mentioned in the same class as other elite pitchers in the league. Others have tried to discredit his 2020 National League Cy Young Award, calling it a “Mickey Mouse Cy Young” because it came during an abbreviated 60-game season.
While Bauer hears all of that, he said he doesn’t particularly care.
“I know what kind of pitcher I am. I know how hard I work and how much knowledge I’ve amassed and how far I've come,” Bauer said. “So if I have something to prove, it’s to myself, always. I hold myself to a much higher standard than anyone else holds me to.”
Bauer, 30, was the most dominant pitcher in the NL last season. He finished with an NL-best 1.73 ERA and struck out 100 batters over 73 innings of work. His 0.795 WHIP also led the NL.
But after signing a big three-year, $102 million contract with the Dodgers, a deal that will make him the highest-paid player in the league this season, Bauer’s focus is now on continuing to get better as a pitcher. After a dominant season, what can he improve upon in 2021?
“There’s a ton,” Bauer said.
Overall command is the one area Bauer would like to improve the most. He wants to get a better feel of his offspeed command and he believes he should be better at throwing first-pitch strikes. The one goal for Bauer that might surprise people most, though, is that he wants to continue to throw harder. He averaged 93.5 mph with the four-seam fastball last season. At age 30, most pitchers start to see a decline in velocity, with a handful of hurlers serving as exceptions.
“There’s a lot left physically that I haven’t been able to tap into,” Bauer said. “I’ve been trying the last couple of years to figure out what it is, but I have to throw harder to maintain pace with the league. I’m still in my physical prime. There’s no reason why you should throw slower when you’re in your physical prime.”
Bauer had a really solid season in 2018 with Cleveland, going 12-6 with a 2.21 ERA. He dominated in ‘20. But the other years of his career have been a little shakier. He had an ERA over 4.00 in each of his first four seasons with the Tribe and again in ‘19.
In 2019, Bauer said he dealt with two torn ligaments in his ankle, but felt the need to pitch as Cleveland looked to track down the Twins in the division. Which Bauer the Dodgers end up getting still remains to be seen. With health, the right-hander believes the best is yet to come.
“When I’m healthy, I’m really good,” Bauer said. “If you compare me to Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, it’s like a pretty direct comparison. People can say what they want about career ERA or whatever, but if you actually look at it, I’ve been pretty elite.”
As he enters his first spring with his fourth different organization, Bauer is looking to get more comfortable with the Dodgers. He mentioned that he has enjoyed meeting his new teammates, learning from the new coaching staff, and seeing how the Dodgers integrate all their departments, from coaches all the way down to the analytics and supper staff.
His first impression on Monday was a good one as Bauer finally took the mound wearing a Dodgers uniform. Bauer struggled a bit with his command in the first inning, needing 18 pitches to get through a scoreless first after giving up a leadoff single. But he was much more efficient in the second inning, striking out Sam Hilliard and Connor Joe and needing just 10 pitches to get through it.
“I already knew that he was a very curious player. I’ve known he’s a great teammate and he’s a great competitor,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “Those are things that just basically have been validated. He’s been fantastic.”
And according to Bauer, he’s only getting better.