CLEVELAND, Ohio – Trevor Bauer in the bullpen?
Listening to Terry Francona, it wasn’t hard to understand what the Tribe manager has in mind.
He didn’t say it, but the Tribe manager seems to have an Andrew Miller role in mind for Bauer in the best-of-5 American League Division Series. It opens Friday in Houston.
Bauer as Andrew Miller. That would be the Andrew Miller of 2016, when he was the most dominate reliever in the game.
It’s when Francona would bring the long, lean lefty with the sensational slider into a game anywhere from the fourth to the late innings.
“Leverage situations,” Francona calls it.
This is Francona’s gamble, the kind that can help the Indians upset the favored Astros in this series.
He wants a power pitcher who can throw multiple innings marching in from the bullpen to keep a game from getting out of control. I like it.
The move is a bit bold. It is also based on sound reasoning, as Bauer is capable of pitching in relief.
For his career, he has a 2.45 ERA in 22 innings out of the bullpen.
The Astros are the defending World Series champions. They finished with a 103-59 record this season, compared to 91-71 for the Tribe.
Houston is the better team.
But the better team doesn’t always win in a 5-game series, as Tribe fans know from watching their team be upset by the Yankees in the 2017 ALDS.
BAUER’S REMARKABLE SEASON
Bauer prefers to start. He was 12-6 with a 2.21 ERA, striking out 221 batters in 175 innings.
Bauer was a legitimate Cy Young Award candidate when he was hit in the leg with a line drive on August 11. He suffered a stress fracture and didn’t pitch again until September 21.
“If we get to where we want to go, Trevor (will have) a bigger hand in it than he realizes right now,” Francona said.
Had Bauer remained healthy, a strong case could have been made to having him start the opener. His season was matching 20-game winner and opening day Tribe starter Corey Kluber.
Bauer is 7-0 with a 3.18 ERA for his career against the Astros.
He also was in an early season twitter battle with some Houston players. You can imagine it adding even more high-octane fuel to Bauer’s pitching engine.
But Bauer didn’t stay healthy.
He’s pitched twice since coming back, covering 9 1/3 innings. He’s been pretty sharp, allowing two runs and striking out seven. But he has not thrown more than 60 pitches.
CHANGING THE GAME
Here’s the problem: Miller has dealt with hamstring, knee and shoulder injuries since he threw 19 1/3 innings over 10 games in the 2016 post-season. It was a lot to ask, but the Tribe needed a lot from Miller to reach Game 7 of the World Series.
Miller had a 2-4 record and a 4.24 ERA this season.
Cody Allen had the worst season (4-6, 4.70 ERA) in his seven years with the Tribe.
Dan Otero (2-1, 5.22 ERA) and Adam Cimber (0-3, 4.05 ERA) also have struggled.
Only Brad Hand (0-1, 2.28 ERA) and Oliver Perez (1-1, 1.39 ERA) have consistently supplied relief.
I believe it’s why Francona has Mike Clevinger ready to start Game 3, with Bauer set for Game 4. The manager will never say it, but this bullpen is not the kind to carry a team to the World Series.
At least, not unless something changes. It’s why rookie starter Shane Beiber also will be in the bullpen – although he could start Game 4 if Bauer is used a lot in the first three games.
In the playoffs, Francona’s approach has been to “win today’s game.” He’ll worry about tomorrow . . . tomorrow. Bauer in the bullpen may put the Tribe in the best position to do just that.