Eye wide shut: Bauer's wink no gimmick

March 6th, 2021

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- won the 2020 National League Cy Young Award last season, so the right-hander wanted to make things a little more interesting his second Cactus league start Saturday: Pitch with one eye closed.

“I figured if they can’t score off me with one eye open, it’s going to be difficult to score off me with two eyes open,” Bauer said. “Just having a little bit of fun.”

With one eye closed, Bauer tossed three scoreless innings in the Dodgers' 2-1 loss to the Padres, striking out three on 52 pitches (37 strikes). Bauer opened the game with a nine-pitch battle against Jurickson Profar that ended with a single to right and a seven-pitch duel with Tommy Pham that resulted in a walk.

Through 16 pitches, Bauer still hadn’t recorded an out and the Padres had two runners on. That’s when Bauer turned to shutting his right eye through his delivery, needing just 11 pitches to retire the next three hitters. He hit 97 mph on the stadium gun with the fastball -- something he did just once last season -- and then struck out Ha-seong Kim on a changeup.

As he walked back to the home dugout, Bauer pointed to his right eye to tell everyone that he just did that with one eye closed.

“I challenged myself today, too,” Bauer said. “I like making myself uncomfortable and throwing different stuff my way and trying to find a solution for it. I think that’s how you improve. Find a way to make yourself uncomfortable, get comfortable with it, and do it again.”

Aside from making himself uncomfortable, there is a method behind Bauer’s one-eyed madness. The reigning Cy Young winner trains with one eye closed during the offseason in order to improve his command on his pitches. Closing one eye takes away some depth perception, making it even more important for him to zone in on a specific location.

Bauer does the one-eyed drill when he throws bullpen sessions and live batting practices and when he faces hitters over the offseason. Sometimes, he even wears “command goggles.”

“I guess when he can’t get his command, that kind of recalibrates him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said with a smile. “I love the way he pushes boundaries and you don’t know what works and what doesn’t work unless you try it. He has a pretty good grasp on what it takes to get him right and keep him right. He’s been a treat.”

Bauer and the Dodgers could’ve elected to keep the right-hander from facing the division-rival Padres on Saturday, but getting him on the mound keeps him on his normal routine. He's scheduled to make a few more starts this spring with the next one likely being four innings or 65 pitches.

One person Bauer said he really wanted to face Saturday? Manny Machado, who is 10-for-17 with four homers in his career against Bauer. Maybe the solution is pitching to Machado with one eye closed.

“Just wait,” Bauer said. “It’s going to be a fun year.”

Morrow update

The Dodgers are still optimistic that can pitch in a big league game for the first time since 2018 this season, but the right-hander won’t take the mound in a Spring Training game.

“With Brandon, he’s on a throwing program so as far as Spring Training games go, I don’t see that happening,” Roberts said. “Just appreciating what he’s gone through the last few years, I think that having him develop arm strength throwing live [batting practice] and bullpens, that right now is the goal throughout Spring Training.”

Roberts reiterated that Morrow hasn’t suffered any new injuries this spring and that easing the right-hander back into action was the plan ever since they signed him to a Minor League deal in December.

Morrow, 36, had the best season of his career as a member of the Dodgers in ‘17, going 6-0 with a 2.06 ERA in 45 appearances out of the bullpen.

Ruiz getting closer

Visa issues have kept Keibert Ruiz, the Dodgers’ top position player prospect per MLB Pipeline, out of camp, but the young catcher has finally arrived in Arizona and the hope is that he can join his teammates in the next few days.

Ruiz has to self-quarantine and go through intake testing before he’s cleared to join the team. Roberts expects that to happen soon and the Dodgers could have Ruiz play in a Cactus League game at some point next week. Ruiz was the only player missing from camp.

“I know he’s kept himself in really good shape,” Roberts said. “I feel really comfortable at some point soon getting him into a game.”