Bauer shows promise if not dominance in debut

If Diamondbacks fans were looking for a dominant performance foretelling a future Cy Young Award from Trevor Bauer on Thursday (and the colossal buzz leading up to his major league debut would suggest they were), they probably came away disappointed.

Based on the astronomic expectations in place for the 21-year-old phenom’s debut, it was a letdown — four innings and a no-decision. But by realistic standards, the outing was not that bad and provided a reasonably accurate look at Bauer’s strengths and weaknesses.

Moreover, Bauer kept the D-backs in position to win, which they did, 3-2, to avoid a sweep in Atlanta. Some might even call that a success.

“That’s my goal every time I’m out there,” Bauer told FOX Sports Arizona afterward. “Just give the team a chance to win, keep them in the ballgame. My teammates picked me up.”

Bauer’s high pitch count through four innings — 74 on three day’s rest after throwing 50 pitches for Triple-A Reno on Sunday — as well as a leg cramp believed to be very minor took him out of the game early, as did control issues. He allowed two runs on five hits, three walks and three strikeouts.

“We’re going to be cautious on that,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said of the cramp and short rest. “He’ll be ready for his next start.”

It was really the walks that doomed Bauer’s first start. After two scoreless innings, the right-hander walked Braves center fielder Michael Bourn to open the third. He got Jason Heyward to ground into a double play but then walked Martin Prado, who came around to score on a Brian McCann double. Bauer then issued his third walk of the inning, to Chipper Jones, before hitting Dan Uggla to load the bases.

“Trevor started off throwing good,” Gibson said. “He got in a little trouble there walking a couple guys.”

The inning was a display of the weaknesses the D-backs have talked about wanting Bauer to improve: control and pitch counts. In the minors this season, Bauer averaged 4.6 walks per nine innings. Couple that with the fact that he’s a strikeout pitcher — 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings this year — and pitch counts can climb quickly. Twice in June alone, Bauer threw more than 90 pitches in an outing of only five innings.

But while Bauer’s control put him in a pinch in the third inning, he displayed composure in getting out of the inning without further damage. He had also escaped a jam in the second inning that saw runners on second and third with one out.

The nerves of a major league debut — a highly hyped one — didn’t seem to get to Bauer much. He went through his usual extensive pregame routine and showed no signs of intimidation facing a lineup full of heavy hitters such as Heyward, McCann and Uggla.
Bauer also displayed in his short performance the aggressiveness he has discussed to some controversy this season. He is not afraid to pitch to contact; he’s confident he’ll get hitters out. Bauer didn’t nibble at many batters, instead going right at them in the strike zone. That helped him escape both jams Thursday.

When asked if he felt any nerves, Bauer said, “No, nothing like that. Baseball’s baseball at every level. Throw your pitches, execute your gameplan and you’ll be fine.”

That kind of fearless approach works well with Bauer’s strikeout ability. He got both Bourn and Uggla to watch third strikes Thursday with changeups that showed impressive movement. Bauer seemed to struggle with command of his curveball, which often bounced in front of the plate, but once that is established, he showed signs of producing the same kind of strikeout numbers he did as a dominant minor leaguer.
 
Bauer is set to make his next start Tuesday against the Padres at Chase Field. The home debut will certainly come with a good deal of hype, but Bauer now has the first one under his belt and a foundation to build on.