Yesterday, I laid out one of my biggest concerns with the Cleveland Indians as they prep for the postseason – the bullpen.
An incredibly inconsistent season from the relief corps has me worried about how this unit will perform against the Houston Astros, despite the fact it features standouts like Brad Hand, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.
That said, there’s one pitcher who might end up being the saving grace for the shaky bullpen. In fact, you could argue Trevor Bauer – Cleveland’s former starter currently relegated to the pen as he gets back on track after an injury hiatus – might end up being the team’s secret weapon in the ALDS.
Normally, the idea of having one of your best starters limited to relief duty isn’t what you’d call ideal. This is especially so with Bauer, who was in the middle of a career-best season before being sidelined for a month after taking a line drive off the ankle. While he was able to get in a few appearances before the year ended, he never went further than four innings.
I’ll admit, I was initially hesitant about the idea of the Indians using Bauer as a potential reliever. I held out hope he’d be able to get fully stretched before the ALDS kicked off, as he’s much more effective as a starter.
At the same time, when adding Bauer’s talent to a bullpen which has struggled to be consistently reliable this year, it might end up alleviating one of the biggest concerns with this team.
In Bauer, the Indians will have a pitcher who finished eleventh in the majors with 221 strikeouts, despite being sidelined for a month. They’ll have a player who’s shown no hesitancy to stay on the mound as long as possible, even if he’s over 100 pitches. He’s also been known to offer his services just one day after throwing that many.
Simply put, having a rubber-armed righty who also set a career high in strikeouts and practically cut his ERA in half year-over-year is such a boost to the bullpen.
He also gives the Indians something they heavily relied upon during their 2016 World Series run – a “super reliever.”
Back then, Miller was utilized to make up for Cleveland’s shallow rotation, pitching 19 innings in ten games and standing out as the team’s postseason MVP. The Tribe knew it had someone it could bring in who, no matter the hitter, no matter the situation, could collect crucial outs.
With Miller still working to regain his form after a season full of injuries, it sure seems like Bauer can step in as the Tribe’s super reliever this time around.
Sure, in an ideal world, Cleveland can get lengthy performances from its starters and Bauer isn’t needed until a potential Game 4 start. At the same time, having an effective reliever willing to step in for more than one inning will be huge for the team. This is especially so if a starter struggles or manager Terry Francona wants to try and keep his rotation at lower pitch counts in hopes of keeping them fresh for a potential deep playoff run.
It’s still unclear just how the Indians will utilize Bauer in this series. They may be hesitant to give him too much relief work, hoping to save him to start in Game 4.
However, his services will be available in the games before that. Knowing how much anxiety the bullpen has caused this year, and how critical an effective long reliever can be in a short series, the Indians would be wise to take advantage of Bauer in relief appearances.
In fact, it might just give them the edge they need to get past Houston.