The 2011 draft had scouts drooling over all the talented arms. The Pirates selected UCLA righty Gerrit Cole with the first pick, the Mariners took Virginia lefty Danny Hultzen, the Diamondbacks went with Cole's UCLA teammate Trevor Bauer and the Orioles drafted high schooler Dylan Bundy.
The four will be grouped together always, to be compared, debated and, hopefully, appreciated for their ability to crush big league hitters with magical fastballs, curveballs and changeups.
Bauer is the first of the four to reach the big leagues. As I wrote earlier, he's already become a bit of a cult phenomenon due to his extensive pregame warm-up routine. Let's do a running diary of his first start, a game in which the Diamondbacks beat the Braves, 3-2.
Strike one! The TV cameras showed Bauer doing one last rubber band stretch before taking the mound in the bottom of the first, and his first pitch is a 93 mph fastball that Michael Bourn takes for a strike.
The first thing you notice about Bauer other than his Tim Lincecum-like motion is that he pitches on the extreme first-base side of the rubber, with his right foot barely on the edge of the rubber. Chalk up another unusual trait. And don't forget that he was a mechanical engineering major at UCLA. Smart people in baseball! Guys don't have nicknames like "Dizzy" and "Rube" anymore.
Bauer is actually starting on three days' rest after being summoned to replace Joe Saunders, who landed on the disabled list with a sore shoulder. Bauer threw 50 pitches on Sunday in a Triple-A start, so it will be interesting to see how deep into the game he'll go. You have to assume he'd be on a pretty tight 100-pitch limit, or so, on normal rest as is. Although, if there's any rookie pitcher you can throw out pitch counts with, it's Bauer, who carried a heavy workload in college.
Bourn takes a 93 mph fastball for strike two, then another fastball up high for a ball. Bauer throws a curveball in the dirt and then chunks another curveball about 58 feet. Bourn fouls off two more fastballs and Bauer throws a changeup on the outside corner that sends Bourn back to the bench.
Bauer keeps the souvenir from his first major league strikeout -- only he throws the ball to the wrong dugout. Rube.
Bauer throws Jason Heyward three fastballs inside, inducing a groundball to first base. After starting Martin Prado with a strike with a 93 mph fastball, Prado hits a curve up the middle for a base hit. But Bauer gets Brian McCann to fly to right on what looked like a hittable fastball over the plate.
Excellent first inning. Showed command of the fastball, which he clearly tried to get inside on the three left-handed batters.
Still scoreless, Chipper Jones steps in and gets ahead 2-0 as two four-seamers are out of the zone. Bauer tries to sneak a changeup by Chipper, but the old man isn't fooled: A solid single to right field. Dan Uggla, Mr. Clean, falls behind on a fastball and a curve he swings through. After Bauer bounces another curve, he fools Uggla looking on what Diamondbacks announcer Mark Grace calls a "reverse slider." I believe this may be the pitch Bauer has termed "The Bird," and it acts like a changeup that tails into right-handed batters.
Freddie Freeman, however, lines an 0-2 curveball to right field for a double, sending Chipper to third with one out. Rookie shortstop Andrelton Simmons steps in hitting .325, but he grounds out to third on a curve and Bauer escapes the jam by striking out opposing starter Jair Jurrjens on three pitches.
College pitchers selected in the top three picks of the draft, 2000 to 2009: Adam Johnson, Mark Prior, Dewon Brazelton, Bryan Bullington, Kyle Sleeth, Justin Verlander, Philip Humber, Luke Hochevar, Greg Reynolds, David Price, Stephen Strasburg.
Bourn leads off the bottom of the third and Bauer throws a beautiful 2-2 curve that freezes Bourn ... and home-plate umpire Bill Welke. Looked like a strike to me. The 3-2 pitch is low for ball four.
Heyward is up and takes a fastball up high, which leads to a conference at the mound with catcher Miguel Montero and third baseman Willie Bloomquist. After that conference breaks up, pitching coach Charles Nagy and the trainer pay a quick visit, although Bauer appears to mouth "I'm all right." Whatever the issue or nonissue, Heyward grounds into a 4-6-3 double play on the next pitch.
Martin Prado walks on five pitches and Bauer then makes his first big mistakes, a 1-2 fastball over the middle of the plate that McCann drills off the right-field scoreboard to score Prado and give the Braves a 1-0 lead. Chipper Jones walks on a 3-2 curve that dips inside, and then Bauer hits Uggla on a 3-1 changeup -- The Bird -- that drifts inside. After another meeting at the mound, Bauer escapes the jam as Freeman flies out to center field.
I thought Bauer got squeezed on a couple of the balls to Uggla and the 2-2 pitch Bourn certainly looked down the middle of the plate. Not much help from Welke that inning, but the concerns about Bauer heading into the game were command of his fastball and running up high pitch counts (he averaged 106 pitches in the minors while averaging six innings), and you can see why. After spotting the fastball well in the first inning, he's been inconsistent the past two innings and his curveball has also been inconsistent, including three that have bounced in front of the plate.
Simmons leads off with a double off the glove of Justin Upton in right field. Should have been caught, I'd say. Simmons later scores after a sacrifice bunt and sacrifice fly to center.
And that ends up being it for Bauer, who is removed in the top of the fifth inning for a pinch hitter. His final line: 4 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 3 SO, 74 pitches, 42 strikes.
I can't say the performance blew me away. Bauer came advertised with a 93-95 mph fastball that ESPN Insider Kevin Goldstein said he can "bump up a bit higher at times." But Bauer was clocked at 95 just once, on a first-inning pitch to Bourn. Keep in mind, of course, that he was pitching on three days' rest, so he wasn't necessarily on a normal routine or rest.
It will be interesting to see how his changeup and curveball develop. The comparison to Lincecum is apt here, as well. When Lincecum first reached the majors he was primarily fastball/curveball with about 13 percent changeups mixed in. Through the years, Lincecum ended up throwing his changeup more often than the curveball (in 2011, for example, Lincecum threw 24 percent changeups and 7 percent curveballs).
Anyway, we saw enough to see the potential for a dominant starter. It's one start. There will be plenty more. Enjoy, Diamondbacks fans.
(Note: After the game, according to a tweet from MLB.com beat writer Steve Gilbert, Bauer said he suffered a cramp in his groin in the third inning that affected his command and velocity, something he's battled on and off all season. So factor that in, as well. If anything, even more reason to check out Bauer's next start.)
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