CLEVELAND -- When Indians starter Trevor Bauer unleashes a pitch at maximum effort, the right-hander often lets out a primal grunt. That familiar sound of aggressive exertion returned to an empty Progressive Field on Saturday morning during Bauer's bullpen session on the game mound.
For the last handful of pitches in Bauer's 40-pitch workout -- one that included a break in the middle to simulate two innings -- he was noticeably increasing the intensity. By the end of the exercise, the grunt was back in full force, while coaches and front-office members looked on, medical staffers monitored every movement and a video team collected footage and compiled data.
"What we saw there at the end," said president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti, "the last five or six pitches were just, 'All right, let's go. I'm going to get after it.' And I think he sequenced his delivery a little bit better. His stuff was a little bit crisper. So, it's a good building block for him."
This was the latest step forward for Bauer, who sustained a stress fracture in his right fibula after being struck on the back of the right foot on Aug. 11 by a comebacker from Jose Abreu. Barring any setbacks, Bauer is scheduled to face hitters on Tuesday, giving him another opportunity to up the adrenaline.
That has been one of the bigger challenges throughout the rehab process for Bauer, who thrives on the intensity of an in-game environment. Saturday's move to the main mound was not only to allow the Indians to gather information via their Trackman system, but to put Bauer in a more game-like setting.
"I know Trev wanted to feel like it was Game 7 today," manager Terry Francona said. "It's about impossible."
Bauer agreed, adding that Tuesday's workout with hitters in the box will hopefully help.
"There's no adrenaline in a bullpen session," Bauer said. "As much as you try to compete with yourself or trick yourself mentally or whatever, it's just not there. So hopefully I can face hitters next, get some people out here talking, and yelling at some hitters, stuff like that. Try to get the adrenaline up. That'd be nice, just to see how everything responds when there's that external input."
Immediately after Saturday's workout, Bauer headed to the video team behind a screen near the backstop and checked on his fastball velocity. He was in the 85-90 mph range, while sitting around 87-88 mph. While Bauer has averaged 93.1 mph on all of his fastballs this year (two-seam, four-seam and cutter) and 94.6 mph on his four-seamer, he said the diminished speed for the bullpen session was typical.
"Majority of the bullpen sessions, even max effort inside, it's like 92 tops," said Bauer, referring to his offseason workouts. "That's a good indication that I'm not super far off, because those are ranges I've been in before, but I have no idea if I'll pick up zero mph in a game situation or seven or 10. I don't know. It's just a complete different scenario than I've ever been in before."
With roughly three weeks remaining until the start of the American League Division Series, the Indians are still weighing whether Bauer will return as a starter or a multi-inning reliever. That decision will continue to depend on how much progress he makes in the coming weeks and how much more he is able to build up his pitch count.
Antonetti said the objective and expectation is that Bauer will be able to get in games before the end of the regular season.
"It's still day to day," Antonetti said. "We'll have to see how he recovers tomorrow, how his body responds to the increased activity today, and then build a plan for the next few days. But, again, today was a really good step in the right direction."
Asked if he has enough time to return as a starter, Bauer said he just wants to return, period.
"That's not my decision. I pitch when they tell me to pitch," he said. "I feel confident that I'll be able to compete and help us win in whatever role that is. I come into Spring Training ready to throw five, six, seven innings. So, I'll make that point clear."