CLEVELAND – Trevor Bauer has the tendency to overthink his approach on the mound.
Simplifying his arsenal of pitches might be the permanent solution.
The 26-year-old right-hander fired 6.1 innings of one-run ball in a 5-3 win over the Rangers on Wednesday night at Progressive Field. He threw 44 four-seam fastballs (42.7%) and 31 knuckle curves (29.8%) in the victorious effort, a usage rate of 72.5% for these two particular grips.
In looking at his recent trends, this quality start correlates with his simplified adjustments on the mound…
“My cutter and my changeup are hard,” Bauer said, taking note of why his other pitches have recently been used at a lower rate. “They’re just kind of like slightly slower fastballs. So, I didn’t really have like an off-speed pitch besides my curveball. So, all those things combined. When we had the meeting as a staff, and kind of talked about each individual, what we each need to do to be more successful, that was one of the decisions that was made then.”
Since April, Bauer has filtered out many of his secondary offerings so he can focus on throwing the fastball-curveball combo, a devastating mix capable of changing the eye level in each at-bat.
“[The curveball is] probably his best pitch after his fastball,” said Roberto Perez, Bauer’s personal backstop. “I kind of talked to him, because it’s huge for him. If he throws it early for strikes, then guys are going to chase with two strikes.”
Bauer’s latest outing exemplified this newfound strategy by inducing 10 groundouts, four flyouts and three strikeouts vs. Texas.
“It’s been nice,” Bauer said. “[My curveball] doesn’t get hit hard. It doesn’t get hit a whole lot at all, so I’m definitely happy with that. I think it’s helped minimize some of the hard contact, just because I have more of a wider speed differential.”
The green and brown dots paint a telling picture…
Opposing hitters registered an average exit velocity of 83.1-mph on the four-seam fastball and 81.7-mph on the knuckle curve, two speeds that justify Bauer’s point of minimizing hard contact.
“We’ve been talking a lot, trying to get on the same page every time,” said Perez. “I mean, we’ve been using [the curveball] a lot. They don’t do a lot of damage on his curveball. It’s been working. It’s good for him.”
One of the biggest problems for the UCLA product early in the season was keeping the ball away from the barrel, as evidenced by his 38.7% fly ball rate and 21% line drive rate in April.
His gradual improvement on a month-to-month basis shows more ground balls, less line drives and minimal fly balls…
From limiting hard contact to keeping the ball in the park, it is no wonder Bauer is posting his season-best numbers in June – 30.2 IP, 29 H, 14 R, 13 ER, 13 BB, 23 K, 3.82 ERA and 1.37 WHIP.
His curveball usage and overall performance seem to correlate when the former of the two variables is increased.
“There’s a lot of things that kind of led to it,” Bauer said. “It wasn’t like a, ‘Let’s make an abrupt change,’ type of thing. We were kind of talking about it. We talked about it as a staff, with Mickey and the whole staff, about throwing our breaking stuff earlier and more often. I talked about it with Roberto. He thought that it’s my best pitch and, ‘You should use it more.’ I’ve always felt like I was most effective when I throw like 40-50 percent fastballs and use more off-speed stuff.”
Now that Bauer is becoming more reliable, his confidence is growing at an unprecedented rate.
“It’s always been my best pitch,” said Bauer. “It’s never really gotten hit, so it’s kind of to be expected throwing it more, that those results would hold. But, it’s very nice to see them stay true to what should happen.”
If Bauer’s arsenal remains the same, he could be on the brink of breaking out into the elite pitcher a third overall pick is destined to be.
“When he uses his fastball to different parts of the plate, it makes him a much better pitcher,” Francona said. “He’s becoming very dependable, which is a real compliment to any pitcher.”
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.