CLEVELAND, Ohio – Trevor Bauer’s road back to the starting rotation and the postseason started Friday night with 1 1/3 choppy innings against the Red Sox at Progressive Field.
He didn’t allow a run, which was good. He topped out at 95 mph and showed a good knuckle curve at 78 mph. Those were good signs as well.
It wasn’t perfect as his 50-50 split between balls and strikes (17 strikes, 17 balls) suggests, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Not after being on the shelf since Aug. 11 with a stress fracture in his right fibula.
What the Indians wanted from Bauer was a starting point, something to help them determine if he can make it back in time to start in the ALDS or help in the bullpen.
He didn’t give them a definitive answer. What he gave was a peek.
“All things consider that was a pretty good first step,” said manager Terry Francona.
Bauer, who had a Cy Young-worthy season percolating before his injury, left in the second inning after singles by Steve Pearce and Brock Holt. Then he went to the bullpen behind the center field wall and threw enough pitches to account for another inning.
The next test comes Tuesday when Bauer returns to the scene of the crime to face the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. In the seventh inning on Aug. 11, Chicago’s Jose Abreu sent a liner back to the mound that hit Bauer just above the right ankle and knocked him out of the game and put the best season of his career on hold.
Trevor Bauer made his much anticipated return to the mound for the @Indians tonight.
Check it [?] pic.twitter.com/1Fw0YdQbC1
— SportsTime Ohio (@SportsTimeOhio) September 22, 2018
“It has been a frustrating 51/2 weeks,” said Bauer after the Indians lost to Boston, 7-5.
Bauer said he usually sleeps soundly before a start. He was too excited to sleep Thursday night.
“I had good bit of adrenaline,” said Bauer. “Generally, I sleep pretty well the night before a start. It was kind of cool again to be like a little kid and looking forward to the tournament on the weekend or the big game on Saturday.”
Bauer was the first one out of the dugout Friday night as he entrance song, Pursuit of Vikings, by Amon Amarth, shook Progressive Field. In the bleachers, mascots Slider, Ketchup, Mustard and Onion, rocked out as they always do for Bauer’s starts.
In 34 pitches – Francona said he was on a pitch count of 35 – Bauer managed to go through his whole catalog. There were 14 four-seam fastballs, five change ups, four cutters, three knuckle curves, seven sliders and one two-seam fastball.
“I was not surprised,” said Francona.
Bauer said he had no problem letting the ball go.
“I never really doubted that I would be able to turn it loose,” said Bauer. “I’m pretty good mentally at being able to flip that switch. I go through it all the time in the offseason. That’s part of the benefit of having the offseason program I do — the velocity training I do. You see a number of the radar board and you’re like, ‘OK, that’s not good enough.’ And you have to find a way to access the next step the next level.”
Bauer threw a two-inning bullpen session last Saturday, a simulated game Tuesday and started Friday. He said he’s felt better each time out.
“I’ve seen mechanical improvement all three times,” said Bauer. “I’ve seen my stuff tick up all three times. The feeling in the ankle has been better all three times. So, everything is trending in a very positive direction.”
Bauer’s best sequence of pitches came against dangerous J.D. Martinez in the second inning. He struck him out on three pitches – a 93 mph four-seam fastball, a 78-mph knuckle curve and an 81-mph slider.
“It’s probably the only at bat of the night that I really executed really well,” said Bauer. “But like I said, I was encouraged with where my command was relative to what I thought it was going to be.”
If Bauer makes it all the way back, he’ll knock rookie Shane Bieber out of the rotation for the ALDS. That will make Bieber a reliever and he came out of the bullpen for the first time Friday night. He was OK for four innings, but Boston caught him the third time through the lineup in the sixth inning. They sent 10 men to the player and scored four runs on six hits.
Bieber is 10-5 but has had trouble getting through lineups for the third time.
“I think I’ve been letting things snowball on me a little bit,” said Bieber. “I think I just need to focus a little bit more when I give up a leadoff base hit or whatever it be. I just need to keep trying to execute pitches and pitching with a purpose.”
As for the possibility of Bauer’s return, Bieber said, “He’s one of the best there is. If he’s able to come back and be his normal self, which I’m sure he will, I think we can do a lot of special things with him in our rotation.”