HOUSTON -- When Trevor Bauer walked off the mound after his last start on Saturday against the Braves, he was frustrated that his pitch count reached 120 after just 6 1/3 innings, prompting an earlier departure than he would’ve preferred. He was sure to do quite the opposite on Thursday,
HOUSTON -- When Trevor Bauer walked off the mound after his last start on Saturday against the Braves, he was frustrated that his pitch count reached 120 after just 6 1/3 innings, prompting an earlier departure than he would’ve preferred. He was sure to do quite the opposite on Thursday, going eight strong innings and thrusting his fist high above his head as the final out of his night was made.
It was a showdown between former UCLA teammates, Bauer and Gerrit Cole, both of whom brought their “A” games. But it was Bauer who prevailed, helping lift the Indians to a 2-1 victory over the Astros on Thursday night at Minute Maid Park.
“Those guys have somewhat of a history, right?” said Indians designated hitter Jake Bauers, whose fifth-inning homer proved to be the difference. “So I’m sure they were both a little fired up. So you knew it was going to be a battle like that. I looked up and it was the sixth inning and it was 8:15 [p.m. CT] or something like that, and that only tells you how much of a pitchers' duel it was. So every run matters.”
Bauer’s jump in fastball velocity
For the first time this season, Bauer worked beyond the seventh, allowing just one run -- a homer by George Springer in the third -- on four hits with three strikeouts and six walks on 118 pitches. The 28-year-old had some of his best stuff, as his fastball averaged nearly a full mph faster (95.4) than it has since the start of last season (94.5), according to Statcast. And with the adrenaline pumping, the last two fastballs he threw clocked in at 97.1 and 97.6 mph, his fastest of the night.
“I thought he competed his rear end off,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “As a lineup, they don’t go out of the zone. His stuff was -- I mean his last pitch I think was 97, 98, and he had six walks and three strikeouts with that stuff. Their lineup is good. They’re balanced, they’re deep and he competed like crazy.”
“Yeah, in that situation, I mean, I think I was at 99 pitches going out for that inning,” Bauer said. “I just slapped myself in the face before it, yelled and threw everything I had. Emptied the tank. It was fun. I enjoy that stuff.”
Trading strikeouts for grounders
Through each of his first five starts, Bauer recorded at least seven strikeouts, but he couldn’t take that same approach in Houston. Entering Thursday, the Astros' offense owned the third-best strikeout rate in the Majors, trailing the A’s and Angels. The righty fanned three batters in the series opener at Minute Maid Park, forcing nine ground-ball and five flyball outs.
“Because he walked six, it probably kept him able to be in the game as long as he did,” Francona said of the groundouts. “But he held his stuff. I mean, when you’re facing those guys for the third or fourth time, that’s tough duty.”
It’s not common for a pitcher with six walks to stay in for eight full frames. The last three times a starting pitcher tossed eight innings, walked six and allowed one or fewer runs before Thursday, they did so in a no-hitter (2011: Francisco Liriano; '10: Edwin Jackson; '10: Ubaldo Jimenez).
“Didn’t know what to anticipate,” Bauer said. “I know that they have really good analytics and they have good reports and good planning going in, so I knew I was going to have to mix up some sequences and do some things a little bit differently than I normally did. Thought it worked OK. They hit some balls hard right at people. ... They’re good hitters. Good approach. Good analytics. Tough lineup to face all around.”
Bauer remains perfect vs. Astros
Experiencing success against Houston has been a common trend for Bauer in his eight-year career. He is one of just two active pitchers, along with Justin Verlander, who have made nine starts against the Astros and haven’t lost. The Tribe’s offense gave its starter limited run support, as Leonys Martin and Bauers each launched solo homers, but eight innings from Bauer and three outs from closer Brad Hand -- who recorded his seventh save of the year -- were enough to carry the Indians.
"He's always difficult,” Astros manager AJ Hinch said. “Every night we've seen him, he's tough because he mixes his pitches so well and he's got an array. He's added a new pitch, a changeup, and he threw that a little more than we expected tonight. He's got really good pitches. He's been an All-Star, he's been [a] Cy Young [candidate]. When he's throwing those for strikes, he's really tough. He avoided catastrophe. We hit the ball pretty hard early. We had a number of hard-hit outs. He pitched around six walks and threw a couple of well-placed fastballs at the right time."
Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.