The Bauer Conundrum

It is not a secret that Trevor Bauer hasn’t gotten off to a great start to the 2017 season.

After last night’s loss to Toronto, Bauer is 2-4 and has allowed 27 runs in 33 innings, including 7 home runs.  Those numbers are somewhat skewed by two horrible starts vs. Detroit (13 runs in 9 innings)

This performance to date, and Mike Clevinger’s very good start on Sunday vs. Kansas City have many in the Indians’ fandom to want to replace Bauer in the rotation with Corey Kluber returns to the starting rotation.

There is no question that Bauer is a polarizing figure among Tribe fans.  Many feel he cost the Indians the World Series last year (we really don’t get that one), and there is the drone incident before the American League Championship Series, and the fact the pitcher makes his political beliefs well known.

None of that should matter to fans if it doesn’t matter to Terry Francona, Mickey Callaway, and the team’s front office.

Of course, they may indeed be bothered, but they do not and cannot put those feelings in their evaluation of the right-hander.

In looking at the numbers over his career, Bauer has never allowed an inordinate amount of long balls, his main problem has been control.

He led the American League in free passes in 2015, and was 7th last season.

This year, his walks are down, allowing more than three in a game just once this year (his walks per nine are about his career average as result of a five walk game vs. Detroit), and perhaps the homers are a result of being in the strike zone more often.

If that is the case, it might be just a matter of time before he learns to limit the home runs to solo shots.

Regardless, Bauer is just 26 years old, and throws 95 MPH with his fastball consistently.  He also have a very good curveball. It would be very difficult to give up on someone with that kind of stuff.

Besides, outside of Clevinger, the Tribe doesn’t have a lot of depth at AAA.  Ryan Merritt is okay, but has marginal stuff, and Adam Plutko and Shawn Morimando are struggling.

Also, Francona and Callaway like how Bauer takes the ball every fifth day, and for the most part will stay out on the mound to save the bullpen.

Last night was a great example of that.  Bauer gave up four runs in the first three innings, but stayed out there, throwing 125 pitches to get the Tribe through the sixth.

There is a value to that that most fans don’t understand.

So, Francona only had to use one reliever (Zack McAllister) last night, saving everyone else for tonight’s game.  Perhaps someone else lets it spin out of control in the 4th, and the skipper has to use a bevy of relievers.

He has given the Indians 366 innings over the last two seasons,  more than anyone not named Kluber.

As Francona always says, when you think you have enough pitching, you go out and get some more.

Yes, Bauer is frustrating.  Yes, he’s a different cat.  Yes, he is very inconsistent.  But he’s talented enough to play this out.  You have to go the last mile with him to find out if he can be a top of the rotation starter.





Tribe Pitchers Need to Throw Strikes

The biggest worry most fans of the Cleveland Indians had going into the season was the starting pitching.  With two weeks of the season having been played, that concern still exists.

Despite the absence of Michael Bourn and slow starts by Nick Swisher, Asdrubal Cabrera, and to some extent Carlos Santana, the Indians have scored enough runs.  They rank 3rd in the American League in runs scored, averaging 4.83 tallies per game and the team’s OPS ranks tied for 4th in the junior circuit.

Unfortunately, the two teams they trail in runs per night are teams they have played thus far in the 2014 season:  The Twins and White Sox.  Are those teams hot, or are the struggles by Cleveland’s starters responsible for their impressive ranking.

Terry Francona and Mickey Callaway’s pitching staff has struggled throwing strikes, leading the American League in allowing walks.  They also lead the AL in striking hitters out.  This combination leads to high pitch counts for the starting pitchers, and that puts a huge burden on the bullpen.  And we all know how Francona likes to protect his relief corps.

In the Tribe’s 12 games thus far, the starter has completed seven innings just twice (Justin Masterson on Opening Night, and Zack McAllister vs. San Diego), and in only two other games have they thrown six frames (Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, both this past week against the Padres).

That’s two out of every three games that the bullpen is forced to get more than nine outs per game.

To be sure, Callaway and the skipper would prefer the starters to be more efficient, throw strikes and let hitters put the ball in play to get outs.  Masterson has walked nine in 15-1/3 frames, Carlos Carrasco has walked five in 10-1/3 innings, and Danny Salazar has issued five more free passes in 9-1/3 innings.

Speaking of Carrasco, it appears he isn’t pleasing his bosses.  He struggled in his second start of the season on Friday night, but what had to have Francona and Callaway shaking their heads were the two walks he issued after the Tribe tied the game at three for him.  Response runs have been a problem this season for the whole staff, but when they occur because of walks, it makes the manager upset.

After the game, reporters received the dreaded “ask him” answer from the pitching coach, a very good sign of his anger.  Callaway sent a clear signal to the pitcher that he is no longer covering for him.  And both he and Francona go out of their way to take the player’s side when at all possible.

The right-hander had his next start, scheduled to be Thursday at Detroit, delayed until at least Saturday vs. Toronto, but the guess here is that the front office is buying time to see whether or not to use Bauer or maybe Josh Tomlin in that spot with Carrasco staying in the bullpen.

Blake Wood (seven walks in 4-1/3 IP) could be sent to Columbus to make room in the ‘pen for Carrasco, as the organization tries to find a spot for the young right-hander and his electric stuff.

If he fails in the relief role, GM Chris Antonetti will likely have to cut ties with Carrasco.

While it is still very early in the campaign (less than 10% of the season has been played), the Tribe needs to get more length out of the starting pitchers.  If the current guys can’t do it, Francona will make changes.  He isn’t about to throw away a season because of this problem.