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Cleveland Indians: Trevor Bauer showed flashes of brilliance against White Sox

The young pitcher has all the talent in the world, but has found himself in the bullpen. What can be done for Trevor Bauer?

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Trevor Bauer’s move to the bullpen was a surprise for everyone who follows the Cleveland Indians. All winter he’s been talked about as the fourth reason why the Tribe would be playing in October, and all of a sudden he’s been relegated to the long man/mop up role.

He has a hard going cracking the top of the bullpen "rotation", so to speak. Cody Allen has a firm grip on the closer role, Jeff Manship is now a poor man’s Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw throws a cutter as good as Mariano Rivera on a bad day, and Terry Francona has placed a grand amount of faith in Zach McAllister being key for him. So what does that mean for Trevor Bauer? Well, the one thing it doesn’t mean is that it’s time to cut bait.

Bauer isn’t done as a starter, that much should be understood right off the bat. This is another case of Mickey Calloway doing what he does to fix young pitchers and mold them into world beaters. Pretty much since the Bauer-to-pen move was announced, the optimists in Tribedom chirped up about what this same move did for Carlos Carrasco. Carrasco is now a favorite dark horse candidate (a term that admittedly is contradictory) for the Cy Young. Bauer will have the opportunity to go back to the rotation, whether because of ineffectiveness from Cody Anderson or Josh Tomlin, injury, weird scheduling, a double header, or he just forces the hand of the coaching staff.

The tools are all still there to start, from the velocity and stuff to the rubber arm. He just needs to learn how to better shake off a walk, and also trust his stuff. He tries to be Greg Maddux when he has the tools of more of a Roger Clemens. Not that good of course, but he can challenge people with that fastball whenever he wants. Cut it, two-seam it, just work through a lineup hanging in the mid-90’s and making the ball dance. He doesn’t need to paint on the black all day, and perhaps that’s where being a reliever will help him. He’ll be given less chance to dance around the zone because of the situations he’ll be in.

For now, though, it’s the bullpen. In a vacuum, the move seems like a poor choice for the Indians. Bauer gets a lot of strikeouts, but he also walks a ton of guys -- 10.6 percent of batters last season. It seemed like he always ahd people on base, usually from the free pass. That more often than not leads to Bauer getting frustrated when he’s trying to paint and it’s not working out, and he grooves one that ends up over the fence. That’s what happened here in his debut against David Ortiz.

Well, it wasn’t a horrible pitch normally, but against a tremendous low ball hitter in Ortiz, it’s a poor choice. Too much plate You’d think you’d try to go upstairs on him, a 40-year old shouldn’t be able to get around on 96 at the numbers. Especially not on a cold day in April. That’s where focusing on a single batter at a time, a pitch at a time could be beneficial to Bauer rather than that starter mentality of needing to go six or seven, thinking too far ahead. That’s what helped Carrasco become his current greatness, according to articles.

Bauer is known for this fastball, now tickling 97 at times this year, and came into Cleveland with a highly touted curve ball. But Friday in Chicago he dropped a pair of pitches that had me stunned. First, this silly little cutter.

There’s not a lot to it, but that’s a damn near impossible pitch to hit for a righty. You see it running at the corner and since his four-seamer is do needle straight when it comes in, surely this is bloopable into right field. Then it gives that little dart away. He threw another one right after it, a little higher and over the plate, and it worked much as well. It’s a nice piece to add to the repertoire. Then he did this:

That changeup is… Felix-esque. I don’t care if this is Jimmy Rollins from eight years ago, he’s not hitting that. The run, the deception to throw a four-seam at 96 then come back with that about eight inches lower makes you untouchable. This and the cutter you saw before give him tools to work off the fastball, and allow that huge curve that right now is almost readable out of his hand. Batters can just watch it go by because it breaks so much there’s a good chance it’ll fall for a ball. These are the things he can do while fiddling with the guys in the bullpen all day. That’s what I assume goes on out there, that and pranking and checking out the women in the stands. If Jim Bouton is to be believed any way.

When Bauer was drafted in 2011, the expectation was that he would be a starter. But that was with the Diamondbacks. He cost a year of Shin-Soo Choo and brought Bryan Shaw with him though, and if that all ends with him being a pen arm for a bit, that’s not a problem. Shaw alone has been an amazing piece for the Tribe, and Bauer’s upside is still immense. His talent level has never been in question, it seems like it’s always been a makeup and composure problem. This idea of putting him in either high pressure or no pressure situations out of the bullpen is interesting. Calloway and Francona are giving the young man a chance to crumble or become a beautiful, shiny diamond. It’ll be an adventure, sure, but it could work out great. Or terribly and he gets booted to Columbus, but at least he won’t ruin everything once every five days. Somehow that seems like good news.