CLEVELAND -- The decision announced by the Indians on Tuesday might have rattled the team's fan base some, but it's nothing new for Trevor Bauer. The right-hander will take the ball in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, just like he did one year ago in the opener
CLEVELAND -- The decision announced by the Indians on Tuesday might have rattled the team's fan base some, but it's nothing new for Trevor Bauer. The right-hander will take the ball in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, just like he did one year ago in the opener of the Tribe's run to the World Series.
"I'm looking forward to it," Bauer said. "Every inning is super important. You go out there like a closer and try to close each inning out. And then whenever I run out of gas, there's plenty of people to pick me up. It's fun, because everything takes on such a big importance and such a big meaning."
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One year ago, Bauer was named the Game 1 starter for the ALDS against the Red Sox out of necessity. Ace Corey Kluber was dealing with a late-season injury and was given an extra day to rest. This time around, the staff is healthy and the wealth of options allowed the Tribe to weigh many scenarios. By starting Kluber in Game 2 of the ALDS presented by Doosan, he can come back on normal rest for a potential Game 5 against the Yankees.
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The fact that Bauer is going in the ALDS opener shows how much trust he has earned.
Kluber has pitched at an elite level worthy of serious AL Cy Young Award consideration, but Bauer was also a key cog within his club's second-half surge on the mound. Dating to July 21, when Bauer took the hill against the Blue Jays, he closed out the season going 10-1 with a 2.60 ERA and 91 strikeouts over 83 innings.
"He's been one of the better pitchers in the league," manager Terry Francona said of Bauer's showing in the second half. "He's durable. He bounces back really well. That's another thing. We can use him [later in the ALDS], whether it's a second start or in the bullpen, probably easier than anybody on our roster. That's another factor."
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Bauer's season was an enigmatic one at times, but it's his best body of work to date.
In 32 games, Bauer established career bests in strikeouts (196), Fielding Independent Pitching (3.88), strikeouts per nine innings (10), strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.3) and walks per nine innings (3.1), while going 17-9 with a 4.19 ERA. There is a reason to point to that July 21 outing in Toronto as a turning point, too. That is when Bauer officially scrapped his splitter -- an offseason project that did not pan out -- and added a new slider to his arsenal.
"Now," Bauer said, "I have a mix that I've wanted to have for four or five years now."
The idea behind developing the splitter was sound. Bauer has a two-seamer that runs laterally across the zone in the direction of the right-handed batter's box. The right-hander's cutter goes in the opposite direction. Then, Bauer has the high-velocity four-seam fastball and a big curveball that dives below the zone. The intent of the splitter was to offer a pitch with downward action that he could send to the low-third of the zone, or just below it, in the 83-85 mph range.
"I never got to a point where I felt like I could reliably command it below the zone when I needed to," Bauer said. "But, when I added the slider in, that had the same movement profile that I was looking for. The horizontal break was secondary to the vertical profile."
Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway also noted that right-handed batters have a harder time against sliders (.219 average and .365 slugging percentage this season, according to Statcast™) than against cutters (.243 average and .401 slugging percentage). Callaway said that information also helped convince Bauer to add the secondary breaking pitch to his repertoire.
The presence of an effective slider also helped Bauer ease up on overuse of his curveball.
"The slider usage went up," Callaway said. "It's been a good pitch for him. It complements his other pitches well and he throws it correctly, which is key."
Now, Bauer will get to test out his retooled approach in Game 1 of the Indians' postseason.
"He's come a long way and we're proud of him," Francona said. "I mean, for him to get the ball in Game 1 speaks volumes. Trevor will never back down from a challenge and we love that about him."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.