PHOENIX — Cliché as it may be, third time was the charm for Trevor Bauer.
The Diamondbacks’ rookie broke through Sunday in his third major league start, displaying the dominance that fast-tracked his career to the big leagues to help the D-backs beat the Dodgers 7-1 to close out the first half.
After two shaky starts to begin his career, Bauer earned his first major league win and looked much like the pitcher was hyped to be, throwing six scoreless innings and allowing just two hits and one walk while collecting six strikeouts.
“He really got rolling there after about the third inning,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “He was just very effective with all his pitches today.”
Bauer may have relaxed a bit and fixed a mechanics issue mentioned after his last start, but the real difference Sunday was his connection with catcher Miguel Montero. After Bauer’s Tuesday start, there was chatter that the two were not on the same page. They certainly seemed to be in sync Sunday.
“He calls one game and I call a different game, so we just needed to talk it out and get on the same page,” Bauer said. “We were on the same page today, and it was a lot easier for me, like when he would put down a sign, to know ‘OK, he knows how I like to pitch, he’s using his knowledge of the hitters to fit to my game plan, let’s go with it.'”
Montero made three visits to the mound in the early innings and chatted with Bauer and pitching coach Charles Nagy in the dugout following Bauer’s electric three-pitch strikeout of Dodgers catcher Matt Treanor to end the second inning.
“We had better communication, we had a game plan to work with and he executed,” Montero said. “He made really good pitches.”
After Bauer was roughed up Tuesday, he responded a couple days later with firm insistence that he would not pitch to hitters’ weaknesses but rather to his strengths. Montero said the next day that he understood Bauer sticking by the approach that got him to the majors less than a year after signing but reiterated the need for a game plan.
That plan was developed Saturday, when the pair sat down with Gibson, Nagy, backup catcher Henry Blanco and bullpen catcher Jeff Motuzas.
“We just sat down, kind of analyzed the first couple starts and wanted him to understand his strengths, wanted him to understand a few things in certain situations and why,” Gibson said. “It was a great conversation. Then those guys met today to go through the lineup. If you watched, they didn’t shake off too much.”
Montero confirmed that Bauer, unlike in his last start, shook off only a handful of pitches. On one occasion, Montero said, Bauer even called Montero to the mound to ask him what pitch to throw next. Bauer didn’t trust his slider at the time and didn’t want to walk the batter, so Montero called for a fastball and Bauer obliged.
Instances like that display the growing trust between the duo. Montero felt Sunday that Bauer trusted him much more than in Tuesday’s start.
“We have to have that type of communication,” Montero said. “That’s what is going to help him and help me and help the team.”
Bauer said he was also throwing strikes more Sunday than in previous starts and felt better mechanically. He admitted earlier in the week that his mechanics had gotten a bit out of whack because he was worrying too much about agitating the groin strain that hampered his first start.
The improved communication, however, was cited as the biggest difference. Bauer wasn’t on an island 60 feet from his catcher, as he knew what Montero was thinking and Montero knew what he was thinking.
“It was definitely good to sit down and talk to everybody in the room and kind of explain how I like to pitch, listen to how they like to pitch and attack hitters,” Bauer said. “It was more comfortable out there for sure.”
Just a few days ago, many had the impression of Bauer as cocky youngster wanting only to do things his way, confident he needed only his talent to succeed. That may have come off stronger than reality; regardless, Bauer evolved in a matter of days as a major league pitcher must, and it led to a coordinated effort Sunday.
“I told you guys that we’d sit here and watch and we weren’t really going to make any corrections, but at the same time it’s a game of adjustments,” Gibson said. “If you don’t adjust, you don’t survive.”