Even if it came during a shortened 2020 season, Reds starting pitcher Trevor Bauer still covets the chance to win a National League Cy Young Award.
Bauer entered Sunday second in the NL to Jacob deGrom in ERA, fifth in strikeouts, first in WHIP, second in opponents’ batting average and sixth in FIP. His next start will be Game 1 of Monday's doubleheader vs. the Pirates.
“It means a lot. That’s a goal of mine every single year,” said Bauer, who is 4-3 with a 1.74 ERA and 0.79 WHIP in eight starts. He has 71 strikeouts while opponents are batting .155.
The last time Bauer had a chance to win the Cy Young Award was in 2018 for Cleveland in the American League. He was one of the leading candidates for much of the season but went on the injured list in August with a stress fracture in his right fibula. Bauer wasn’t even a finalist for the award, which went to Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell.
“It was a little bit frustrating because I didn’t get a chance to finish off that season and really compete for it -- even though when you look at my numbers at the end, they were fairly comparable to Blake Snell’s, but I had just missed the last six weeks,” Bauer said on Sunday. “That’s been a frustrating point in my career, and it’s stuck with me. I’m thankful that I’m in that position again, and hopefully I’m able to complete my last three starts and actually compete for it.”
Bauer, a free agent after this season, will likely be scoreboard-watching as he goes up against the Mets’ deGrom, the Cubs’ Yu Darvish, the Braves’ Max Fried and the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes.
“That’s something I’ve done since college, when I was watching Marcus Stroman, Danny Hultzen, Taylor Jungman and all those guys,” Bauer said. “It gives a little bit of context to what type of performances I need to have, which adds a little bit of pressure. I tend to do better when there are higher stakes. I get a little bit of that nervous energy, and that helps. It’s something that helps keep me going.”
Bauer, 29, noted he hasn’t felt perfect, physically, since his second start of the season (at Detroit) was postponed by rain after he was already warmed up. He still pitched a seven-inning complete game the following day.
“I wasn’t really worried about my numbers being in that top-tier category. I know I’m a top-tier pitcher,” Bauer said. “I know I’m in the conversation for having the best stuff in the big leagues. Save for two months last season, if you look at since the middle of 2017 ‘til now, I’ve been a top 5 or 10 pitcher in the league.
“So I know that when I’m fully healthy and I’m out there pitching the way I know I can, I’m fully confident in my abilities. Being able to go out and prove that certainly helps perception, especially [with] the uncertainty this offseason, so that’s nice.”
De León’s impressive appearance
Reds reliever José De León has made four appearances this season and they have alternated between extremes. De León gave up eight runs and four walks in 1 2/3 innings at Cleveland on Aug. 6, followed by 1 2/3 scoreless innings on Aug. 29 vs. the Cubs. The next day, the right-hander allowed four runs with four walks in two-thirds of an inning.
In Saturday’s 7-1 loss to the Cardinals, De León was sensational with two scoreless innings, one hit allowed, one walk and two strikeouts. Overall, his ERA is still at 18.00.
“We’ve been excited to see José,” Reds manager David Bell said on Sunday. “When you look at the season that he’s had, it’s been quite a challenge for him to go to Prasco, to our team. They’ve done a great job at Prasco to recreate real competition. Then he gets a couple of opportunities here and there.”
Bell said the Reds believe in De León and his ability to help them win now and in the future.
“For his confidence and all of that, it was very important for him to get those two solid innings,” Bell said. “He’s definitely shown flashes, but he’s been in some tough spots. It’s been great. He’s been with us on the taxi squad a lot and has done a good job of staying ready. He’s worked with the pitching coaches and has made the most of his time. It’s really nice. We really see a lot of upside with José, and he showed it last night.”