Bauer battles, but struggles with his command

Right-hander hurt by difficulty locating two of his key pitches

May 22nd, 2019

CLEVELAND -- When the Indians had to place Corey Kluber on the injured list after he fractured his right forearm on May 1, a tremendous amount of weight fell squarely on No. 2 starter ’s shoulders. And since then, the right-hander hasn’t been able to find his groove.

After matching his career high in earned runs allowed (seven) for the second time this season in his previous outing, Bauer struggled to bounce back on Tuesday night against Oakland, allowing four runs in Cleveland's 5-3 loss at Progressive Field. He was pulled after throwing a season-high 123 pitches, having given up four hits (including a two-run homer), hitting three batters (including Jurickson Profar twice) and walking four.

“It’s amazing to me that he can have that amount of pitches in that short time and he’s as strong as ever,” Tribe manager Terry Francona said. “Actually, better than he was. He just, you know, his stuff is phenomenal. He’s just not throwing it where he wants to. He’s not commanding. He got a guy 0-2, got a guy 1-2 and ends up walking them. He’s just not throwing it where he wants to all the time.”

In four starts since Kluber sustained his injury, Bauer has posted a 7.04 ERA (18 earned runs in 23 innings), with 12 walks, four hit batters, five homers and 25 strikeouts. Through his previous seven starts, he had pitched to a 2.45 ERA, with 23 walks, three hit batters, four homers and 55 strikeouts.

“Hitters go through periods and pitchers do, too,” Francona said. “Like I said, his stuff is coming out terrific. ... I know [pitching coach] Carl [Willis] was talking to him today during the game. They’ll put their heads together on the side day and try and work on things they need to work on.”

Slider and cutter problematic for Bauer

Command is the biggest problem that Bauer is facing, but not with his fastball or curveball. The 28-year-old said that he had difficulty locating his slider and cutter. Entering the night, Bauer’s cutter and slider had been his top two pitches that resulted in the most swings and misses (41.5 and 51.9 whiff percentages, respectively). But on Tuesday, neither pitch produced a swinging strike.

Bauer’s cutter (thrown 16 times) was responsible for four called strikes and two foul balls, while the slider (thrown 14 times) was called for a strike twice and was fouled off once. He hit Jurickson Profar in the second inning with a 87.9-mph cutter and plunked Josh Phegley with a 78.4-mph slider in the sixth.

“Those are two pitches I rely on heavily,” Bauer said. “So it's hard when you can't throw half your arsenal to anywhere close to the spot that you're trying to throw it to. Overall, I thought my stuff was really good tonight. Gave up four hits. Curveball on the black goes for a bloop hit and then five pitches later a fastball at the letters goes for a homer. I think that’s just the kind of the way things are going for me right now.”

What can Bauer do?

So when you’re standing on the mound and realize two of your top pitches are not going where you want them to go, what do you do? Bauer said that he attempts to make adjustments in the game, and he tried to rely on the two pitches -- the curve and fastball -- that were working well. Of his 123 pitches, 85 of them were heaters and curves. Bauer said he’s also been working on the slider and cutter on his days off to try to rediscover his groove.

“Ultimately, you can't just abandon half your arsenal,” Bauer said. “I threw a lot of curveballs tonight, I thought that was good. It's not like I'm getting hit super hard or a lot. I have a game where I gave up 10 hits or something. But I usually give up, like, four hits. It's just, for whatever reason right now, I'm giving up hits at the wrong times, executing pitches when I need to that are leaving the yard, so it's been frustrating.”

While Bauer has shown his frustration on the mound, Francona doesn’t think that his emotions will be an issue moving forward.

“You know what, I actually think it drives him,” Francona said. “I’ve never seen him back off or anything like that. Like I said, I thought he got better as the game went. He was at 100 pitches after five innings, but I thought his best stuff was in the last inning.”