Thursday, October 18, 2018 Medina 38°
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Tribe Notes

Jim Ingraham: Trevor Bauer returns from injury at the perfect time

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Attention all Cy Young Award voters, all Vegas handicappers of October baseball, and, most especially, Mr. and Mrs. Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, and all the ships at sea:

Trevor Bauer is back!

Fibula schmibula!

A mere flesh wound!

Bauer has had worse than that. Being attacked by his own drone comes to mind. Who will ever forget that? Bauer standing on the mound in Toronto in the first inning in Game 3 of the 2016 ALCS, blood gushing from his right hand and pooling in the dirt, like the killing floor of a Texas slaughterhouse, and Terry Francona strolling casually to the mound and deadpanning to umpire crew chief Brian Gorman, “I think he’s going to be Ok.”

There was no blood on the mound in Chicago on Aug. 11, when a line drive off the bat of White Sox slugger Jose Abreu slammed into Bauer’s minding-its-own-business right fibula.

There was no blood, but there was plenty of shifting in their seats and arched eyebrows among Indians officials. The crack of the bat is romantic. The crack of the fibula is horrifying for a franchise seeking its first World Series title since the Truman administration.

They called it a stress fracture of the right fibula, which technically could be called a broken leg, but don’t tell that to the maniacally-competitive Bauer, who probably started his rehab before he even felt the throbbing in his lower leg.

Not him. Not now. Not us. The old Cleveland woe-is-us jalopy immediately came fish-tailing out of the garage of self-pity. As great as Corey Kluber has been this year, Bauer has been better. Bauer has been as good, if not better, than any pitcher in the American League.

How dominant? It’s been almost six weeks since Bauer threw a pitch in a game and he’s still second in the league in ERA, third in strikeouts per nine innings, fourth in strikeouts and fourth in opponents’ batting average.

He’s tied with Justin Verlander for the highest pitcher’s WAR (6.0, per FanGraphs) in the American League.

He hasn’t thrown a pitch since August 11, but he’s going to throw some Friday night against — how convenient! — potential postseason opponent the Boston Red Sox.

This won’t be a full-blown, give us all you got for as long as you can start. It will be a couple innings. A dip-your-toe into the water get-reacquainted start, to be followed by two more appearances over the Indians’ remaining regular season games.

“To give him a chance to start (in the postseason), we felt he needed to have three outings (in the regular season), and this was the way to do it,” Francona said.

If Bauer can’t get up to Bauer-level as a starter, he would be a postseason option out of the bullpen. But the full Bauer, the Bauer-as-starter, is what the Indians are hoping for.

He’ll start again on Tuesday, in Chicago, and will hopefully go deeper still into the game. Then he’ll pitch a third time, in the last game of the regular season, Sept. 31 in Kansas City.

Then comes the postseason, a postseason that the Indians will feel far more comfortable about with Bauer in the rotation, not the bullpen.

“He gave himself a chance,” Francona said, “by the way he attacked his rehab.”

The way he attacked his rehab is the way he attacked hitters this year, and the hitters didn’t enjoy those attacks. Not at all.

Bauer was really good last year, but the 2018 season was his official coming out party as a top-of-the-rotation star. He controlled games, dominated hitters, won games, and was equal parts indefatigable and indestructible — until Abreu’s line drive made him temporarily destructible.

His potential return to the rotation, just in time for the postseason, is a huge dose of exciting news for the Indians. With Bauer operating at peak efficiency it gives the Indians a Four-Star starting rotation, unmatched by any other postseason team.

When Mike Clevinger records his fourth strikeout in his next start Saturday against Boston, it will give the Indians four pitchers with 200 strikeouts: the other three are Bauer, Kluber and Carlos Carrasco.

No team in major league history has ever had four pitchers with 200 strikeouts in a season. Until now. Kluber, Clevinger and Carrasco are all finishing the season strong. Bauer hopes to.

In the four years Francona has taken the Indians to the postseason, this could be the first time he’s had all four of his top starting pitchers healthy and hum baby-ing.

The importance of this can not be overstated. Kluber (19-7), Carrasco (16-9), Bauer (12-6) and Clevinger (12-8) have a combined winning percentage of .663. All the other Indians pitchers combined have a winning percentage of .410 (25-36).

This ain’t brain surgery. You win with pitching. Especially in the postseason.

With Bauer back, and pitching like Bauer, the Indians have more starting pitching than anyone.

Email Jim Ingraham at jingraham4@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jim_Ingraham.


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