Even before Diamondbacks rookie Trevor Bauer made his big league debut June 28, there were questions about his pregame routine. After a pair of starts, there were criticisms about his approach to hitters and scrutiny of his relationship with catcher Miguel Montero. Just about everything the 21-year-old has done on the field since his call-up has been dissected to the extreme.
But while much has been made of Bauer’s adjustment to playing in the majors, the phenom is also getting used to the heightened attention and scrutiny from the media and fans that comes with life in the big leagues.
“I think it was there before, but it was a lot less because there were a lot less people focused on Mobile or Reno,” Bauer said. “Now it’s like one day you throw a complete-game shutout and you’re a Cy Young; the next day you give up four through four innings and you should be sent down.”
Buzz around Bauer swelled last month with word he was being considered to fill a hole in the D-backs’ rotation when Daniel Hudson was injured. On the day Bauer was to debut, prominent baseball analyst Peter Gammons declared on Twitter it was “Trevor Bauer Day.” And when Bauer made his Chase Field debut, a huge crowd gathered around the D-backs’ bullpen just to watch his unique stretching regimen.
All this for a player not yet a year removed from signing his first big league contract. This time a year ago, Bauer had just left UCLA.
“We’d like to try to minimize the show part and give him more of an opportunity to focus on the challenge and the results part,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “I think he gets it, he understands. He’s trying to find a balance.”
Bauer says he’s not having problems dealing with increased fan attention and requests, things that were inevitable when he went from playing in small cities with Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Reno to pitching in Atlanta, Phoenix and Chicago. It can, however, reach a frustrating point.
In Chicago over the weekend, autograph-seeking fans accosted Bauer outside the team’s hotel. Bauer, who said he enjoys signing autographs, felt the group wasn’t respectful and impeded his exit, ultimately causing him to miss a planned tour.
“The expectations and the ragging and stuff like that I manage plenty fine,” Bauer said. “But obviously, when you’re in a bigger city and people know more about baseball, there’s a lot more people around. All I ask is just to be treated respectfully like any other human being would.”
Plenty of fans have also taken to Twitter to praise Bauer (“You’re great” or “You helped my fantasy team”) or jeer him for bad outings (“You suck” or “You screwed my fantasy team”). Bauer has no problem tuning that out and said he likes to use Twitter to answer fans’ questions about his pitching.
The most intense scrutiny hasn’t come from fans, though; it has come from the media. There was so much hype around Bauer when arrived in the majors that the D-backs restricted access to him, allowing one group interview session per series and after games he pitched. Those rules have since been relaxed.
When Bauer became the first 2011 draft pick to reach the majors, unnamed executives from other teams expressed doubt that his heavy throwing regimen could last. Analysts questioned if his pitching style would work against big league hitters, and two rough outings only fueled the fires.
“It’s just part of what he’s going to have to go through,” Gibson said. “He was kind of an interesting draft pick, number one. And his whole routine’s different. It’s given (the media) a lot to write about.”
While that kind of intense examination frustrated Bauer at first, he’s learning to deal with it.
“Everyone’s so focused on my routine that my results on the field get ignored,” Bauer said. “People focus on my pregame routine and ‘Oh, I do too much’ or ‘Oh, I do this or throw too much’ or whatever. That’s something I’ve done my entire life.”
Things changed — with the skepticism quieting significantly — when Bauer dominated the Dodgers in his third start, throwing six scoreless innings of two-hit ball. Bauer said afterward that he was more in sync with Montero, and he had reiterated even prior to that start that he had no intention of changing the approach and routines that had gotten him to the majors.
“It’s hard to maintain an even-keel approach, which I try to do,” Bauer said. “Good, bad, indifferent — I just try to focus on improving what I need to improve on from the last start to get better. It’s just tougher here.”
Bauer’s hype and expectations were inevitable for a player who won the Golden Spikes Award as the top college player in the country in 2011, was the No. 3 overall pick in the draft and then tore through the minor leagues while putting up ridiculous numbers. And those expectations won’t change for a player considering one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball — especially if he continues to perform the way he did in his most recent start.
Gibson knows a thing or two about expectations. They were incredibly — some would say unfairly — high when he debuted with the Tigers at 22 years old. He refers often to then-manager Sparky Anderson’s famous proclamation.
“I came out of one year of college baseball, (and) Sparky anointed me the next Mickey Mantle,” Gibson recalls. “I was like ‘Yeah, great,’ but yeah, it brought a lot on me.
“But it’s just part of it, and in the end, the good ones, I think it makes them better.”