Game management, pitch count key to Bauer's readiness for big-league rotation.
By JACK MAGRUDERFS Arizona
PHOENIX – The results do not lie.
Trevor Bauer has the pitches to be effective in the major leagues, virtually all who have seen him agree, and he has the numbers in his first full professional season to match. He leads the minor league in strikeouts and is second in victories.
There is another number the Diamondbacks are watching these days, too.
It is pitch count.
With his top-tier stuff, Bauer probably always will throw a lot of pitches in his starts. If opponents cannot hit the ball, they cannot put it in play. The D-backs understand that. But they also would like him to go consistently deeper into games, and that is a function of the number of pitches he throws. He was routinely in the high 130s while pitching once a week at UCLA last season, a number that seems unsustainable on the every-five-day routine at the major league level.
His last start for Class AAA Reno, a 4-0 victory over Tucson last Friday, was a move in that direction. Bauer gave up five hits and two walks in seven shutout innings and matched a career-high with 11 strikeouts. He used only 101 pitches, his second-longest outing of the season and one of his most efficient.
It is a subtle step forward, but one D-backs will monitor closely as they evaluate Bauer's major league preparedness. His other numbers sing – he is 10-1 with a 1.79 and 102 strikeouts in 80 1/3 innings at Class AA Mobile and Reno. He has 40 walks.
"That guy has some fire in his belly and he is a perfectionist, which is going to make him successful. Could he go up and win a ball game in the big leagues, there is no doubt in my mind he could. He's got big league stuff right now," said Reno manager Brett Butler, a veteran of 17 major league seasons.
"The one thing that he needs to be doing is, he needs to manage the game a little bit better."
In other words, sometimes more is not better. Bauer likes to use his full repertoire throughout the game, but on some hitters, three of his mid-90s fastballs might be enough. The D-backs have Bauer on a pitch limit of 100 or so, and sometimes that only gets him through six innings, which then affects the bullpen. Butler and Reno pitching coach and veteran major leaguer Mike Parrott have spoken to Bauer about the big picture, the way shortening his pitch counts could lengthen his career.
"You're going to get 30-plus starts (a year) in the big leagues. But you are going to have to be able to manage it. With that young body right now, you think it's fine. But as you get older, that could diminish," Butler said.
"You can look at the example of somebody like a (Giants pitcher Tim) Lincecum. They rode that horse for a long time, and I just think he's flat worn out. He'll figure it out, because he's a quality guy who knows what he is doing, but I think it is a similar mode in Bauer."
Bauer patterned his delivery around Lincecum, of course, and remains true to his unique warmup program. Bauer plays long toss at 300 feet every day except the day before he pitches – he will make his next start for Reno on Wednesday at altitude at Colorado Springs – and still goes foul line to foul line with his long toss on those days.
He is not ready to adjust that routine, especially because of the way he felt after a rain delay before a May 6 game at Jacksonville that shortened his warmup to 35 minutes. Bauer gave up one hit in seven scoreless innings and won his next start at Mobile before being promoted to Reno, but he said his body felt out of synch for the next few appearances.
"My body felt terrible. An affirmation that I need to get it done," Bauer said.
"My velocity was down. Didn't have the same snap on everything. My body felt sluggish and kind of worn down. It kind of threw me off for a little bit. The past couple of outings, I have finally recovered, got a little bit on a roll. I wish I could put everything together and be consistent. I haven't been consistent for multiple starts in a roll this year. Hopefully that will happen. I can be a lot better."
Bauer said he likes the altitude in Reno because his ball moves less, keeping it in the strike zone more, adding that "it works for my style of pitching, which is completely backward from 99 percent of the other pitchers."
And if others trying to figure out when Bauer will arrive in the majors, he talks with friends and makes music, setting his poems to hip-hop beats.
"I can't sing and I can't play an instrument, so that's about all I can do. But it's creative, and I've been writing poems my whole life, so that is kind of the next step in that. It's another rabbit hole I can kind of venture down," he said.
Bauer will not let himself think about a possible promotion. He did about a month into the season, and it made him miserable.
"I was distracted and completely unhappy," he said. "I really try not to think about it at all. I try not to watch games. I try to focus on what I am doing and make sure I prepare enough to when I go out on the field I can do my job. I don't like being distracted by stuff I can't control. It makes me frustrated."
"I try to focus on the stuff I enjoy doing and have that be the priority in my day."