He still plays pole-to-pole long toss before his starts. He still throws the occasional 50-pitch bullpen in his pregame routine. He still crow-hops on the mound and fires a 90 mph warmup pitch before each inning.
In other ways, Bauer has moved on from the player that the Diamondbacks had absolutely no qualms about trading in the winter of 2012, a mere 18 months after making him the third pick in the 2011 draft.
Back then, his head seemed as hard as his mid-90s fastball.
Teammates and coaches offered advice, trying to tell Bauer that his approach — high fastballs early in the count, breaking balls in the dirt late — would not have the same effect on major-league hitters as it did when he dominated the college ranks while teaming with Gerrit Cole to give UCLA the best 1-2 starting punch in the nation.
He was stubborn. He did it his way, and he walked a lot of batters on on the journey. Even so, the D-backs planned to reward Bauer with a September callup once the Reno Aces’ 2012 postseason run ended in the Triple-A championship game against Pawtucket. Bauer struck out six but walked seven, and when he was removed with an 8-1 lead after 4 2-3 innings, one out from a victory, he did not handle it well. The D-backs canceled his plane reservation to Phoenix.
Bauer was 20 when he was drafted, 22 when he was sent to Cleveland in a three-team, nine-player trade that brought Didi Gregorius, Tony Sipp and Lars Anderson to the D-backs, sent Bauer, Matt Albers, Brian Shaw and Drew Stubbs to Cleveland, and moved Shin-Soo Choo and Jason Donald to Cincinnati. Bauer was the big catch for the Indians.
"Any time you get a chance to get a 22-year old pitcher, that’s big," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said.
Bauer had the most upside of any player in the deal, but also may have been the biggest unknown. Would he tap into his talent? Two years later, it appears he’s on that path, which would turn the trade in Cleveland’s favor, regardless of anything else.
Bauer has tweaked his mechanics, and one noticeable change is the shortening of his arm motion during delivery, part of a remake that he underwent in the offseason. He is throwing more fastballs down in the strike zone, which also helps his off-speed stuff.
He rejoined the Cleveland rotation on May 20 and has acquitted himself well, going 2-3 with a 4.40 ERA. Four of his eight starts have been quality, and he has never given up more than four runs. After walking 29 in 33 1/3 major leagues innings between Arizona and Cleveland in 2012-13 (7.8 per nine innings), Bauer is averaging a very manageable 3.4 walks per nine innings this season. He has 47 strikeouts in 47 innings.
Bauer has found the strike zone, and maybe found himself. It is a small sample side, but Cleveland is pleased with his progress.
"I’ve changed my repertoire slightly," Bauer said. "My general approach way of attacking hitters is still the same. I’m just more advanced with it and better able to execute it now."
Bauer has shown an ability to adapt, which had been the over-arching question during his time in the desert.
"I don’t know how to say it â¦ I think people think I am stuck in one thing. I’m not," Bauer said. "I’m always trying to get better and learn new stuff. If I like it, put it in. My routine morphs from start to start slightly and from year to year. They key principles are still the same, but it’s how I get to that warm feeling."
Francona is getting it, too.
"He has been open and trying hard to be the best pitcher he can be. That’s what we all want," Francona said.
"Trev is never going to be loudest player in the room (clubhouse), and that’s OK. But he is really trying hard to be a good teammate, things that maybe he is not always aware of. I don’t think he ever does anything to make you mad. He’s not that type of kid. I just don’t think he is always aware of the perception. He’s been really good. It doesn’t always translate into every start, but that’s young pitching. He competes his (butt) off, and he has a lot of weapons."
Evaluating trades in the short term is a losing proposition. It is about longevity.
This one remains undecided. The D-backs like Gregorius. His relay throw to catch Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis at the plate to foil an inside-the-park home run attempt in the 13th showed off his arm.