Tuesday night’s game against Cincinnati ended… poorly. It was an all too familiar story line of a brilliant start blown away by a trash scented wind from the bullpen. It’s best to not think about the ninth too much. But what about that first inning, huh? Trevor Bauer looked amazing, as he has all year, striking out the side in order including locking up one of the best hitters in the world in Joey Votto. The Reds slugger is known to be quite cerebral in his approach, perhaps the smartest hitter in the game. Bauer is famously quite scientific in how he’s built himself as a pitcher. A perfect match up of two of the most forward-thinking minds in the game today, and we got to watch. What a joy.
Really, each of the four times they faced off was a small thrill, but the first at-bat set the tone. Bauer hadn’t faced Votto this year yet. They met last May, and Votto was 1-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout. Before that they met twice in 2015. So while Votto has had glimses of Bauer’s development, this is a whole new pitcher than he’d faced before. He said so himself after the game to Casey Harrison of MLB.com:
He’s much sharper than I remember, he’s gotten better. I think his fastball command is better… I think he’s a better pitcher. This is probably what he had in mind from when he entered the league. This is the version ofa pitcher he probably wanted to be and he showed it tonight.
High praise from a very, very good hitter. But anyway, to that at-bat.
Everything started, as so many of Bauer’s at-bats do, with a high fastball:
It’s a good pitch for him even if historical wisdom or common sense or whatever bunk phrase you use says it’s a dangerous move. The curveball of his has such break that stetting the eye level that high opens up the rest of the zone for Bauer to throw a curve for strikes. Votto, robot eyes being as calibrated as they are, laid off.
The next pitch by Bauer was pretty good, and kind of caught Votto off-guard. It was a fastball with a bit of run that got it back on the plate:
It was admittedly borderline, and Votto obviously thought so too. It’s the kind of pitch that if a pitcher gets called a strike, he’s unhittable. Like Kluber in the postseason two years ago. Votto seemed a bit confused, frustrated as the strike was called:
He was a bit unlucky in this call. But luck runs both ways, as the Indians were made to know about eight innings later. Still, it got the count back to even, and opened up Bauer’s whole repertoire. Unfortunately for him…
The idea, a changeup down after two high fastballs, makes sense. Bauer’s changeup has come a long way this year, and he’d set it up nicely, so it could be a good move to get a weak grounder or a swing and miss. Unfortunately, missing the zone by a foot and a half is not going to do it against Joey Votto. So Bauer fell behind, 2-1. He needed something good to get back in the battle. He got it:
That is a strike. Somehow, some way, Bauer got the most border-y of borderline calls on each side of the plate. The ump was everywhere in this at-bat, and Votto let him know it:
I can only assume Votto is saying “that was a strike?” very Canadianly, which is American for “what the goddamn hell kind of a call was that?” It was close, and Bauer got back in the count. More than that though, Votto was stuck because the strike zone was suddenly caught in some kind of non-Euclidean hellscape where borders and dimensions mean nothing. It’s probably why he looked such a fool on the next pitch:
That’s courtesy of MLB.com. That’s also a hideous swing from a guy with some of the best bat control in the game. The smile tells a story too. He knows Bauer got him on that one. Like he said after the game, this new, sharper Bauer was something he hadn’t expected, and the way he helped the pitcher out by swinging at a ball (though would it have been a ball?) did Votto no favors. It also didn’t help with the next pitch, a curveball. Look at this picture:
Bauer had set up this pitch earlier in the at-bat with the opening fastball. Like I said before, the high fastball and the curve for a strike are a deadly combo if you can execute it. In that picture, Votto has already missed the pitch, and is likely just realizing it. He’s already trying to slow up his bat and re-adjust to the much lower plane of the pitch. He just can’t do anything about it. Which is why his swing ended up like this:
knees unlocked, his swing short and butchery, It’s a rare state to find the former MVP.
Then Bauer just dropped the hammer, and fluttered a slider in from outside:
This is what Votto was talking about, that caught him so off-guard. If your scouting report on Bauer is more than three months old, this isn’t there. And it froze Votto like a statue. He knew he’d been had, and Bauer knew too:
Just a coy little half smile, that rascal. The two would duel three more times that night, Bauer getting the better of Votto in each at-bat on a grounder, liner and a fly ball out. Votto attacked early in each at-bat, seeing eight total pitches the rest of the game. Bauer also shook Roberto Perez off seven times at one point, encapsulating the meta-game these two were playing.
In a season without in-division drama and only bullpen complaints, these are the little flashes of excitement we have to cling to, I suppose. Even if it was lopsided in favor of Bauer in the results, Votto was every bit the valiant foe the young pitcher needed to test his mettle. Watching Bauer has always been interesting, but we’re getting to the point of appointment viewing. This was a showcase for an emerging ace.