I happen to attend a number of academic conferences and talks. A lot of the presentations I see, I’d qualify as “okay” – nothing spectacular and memorable, but nothing entirely offensive. Every so often, you get something on the extreme ends of the spectrum. You see a talk that is so awkward and/or weird, you’re almost in physical pain as you wait for the clock to tick slowly by. This goes beyond boring or monotonous – maybe the speaker keeps losing their place and shuffling nervously through their notes. Perhaps they say “um,” 5,684 times (you count because it distracts you and provides a sweet relief from the awkwardness). You feel so bad for the speaker and the fact that they’re crashing and burning, you try to telepathically steer them in the right direction from your seat in the audience.
Then there are times that you see a talk so good, so thought provoking, that you want to stand up and should “YES” in the middle of a crowded room. Your mind is moving in a thousand directions, making connections between what you just saw presented and the multiple epiphanies taking place inside your head. Later that night (and sometimes even a few days later) you find yourself still thinking about how incredibly fascinating it was. You tell friends and family about it in detail, even though you know they could care less and it is all fairly meaningless to them. It makes you want to see more about the topic…immediately and often.
So why am I wasting time with this lengthy explanation about academic conferences and presentations, when I should be talking about a baseball game? Because those two brief descriptions almost exactly sum up my feelings on Trevor Bauer, the two times I’ve seen him pitch so far this year.
I first saw Bauer on the day I arrived in Goodyear this spring – March 11. After a long, harsh winter I was unbelievably excited to be at a baseball game (particularly one in the warm sun) despite my jet lag. Yet when Bauer entered the game to face the Angels, it was anything but enjoyable and pleasant. After a morning where I was almost jumping up and down with excitement to see baseball, I had gone to thinking “Oh please let this end. Please let this end.” Because even though spring training games don’t count, and performances don’t really matter, every once and a while you see something so unpleasant, so awkward, it’s almost painful to watch. I felt pity, shame, and discomfort while watching Bauer flail on the mound. When he finally was pulled for the day, I felt nothing but relief about the fact that I no longer had to watch what had taken place on the field midway through that game.
When I saw that Bauer was getting the call-up for tonight’s game (which was expected, as it was probably down to either he or Tomlin) I immediately thought “Oh boy…here we go.” But even though the Indians lost the game 2-1, I have nothing but positive thoughts about Bauer right now. He was so fun to watch, like a fascinating talk on some research that really interests me. My brain is ticking with the possibility that Bauer may have cleared some of his more major hurdles, and what the major league rotation could look like what this version of Bauer showing up every five days. Even removing the awkward performance from last month, my image of Bauer at the major league level is a pitcher who is phenomenally talented, but who struggled with consistency and struggled with walks. He walked just two batters today, while striking out eight and allowing just one earned run on four hits. Bauer’s first major league appearance in 2013? He walked seven and struck out just two.
In fact, if you looked up the definition of “tough luck loser” in the dictionary today, you’d see Bauer’s picture next to it. After some bumbling errors in the first inning led to an unearned San Diego run, that lone run proved to be the difference. The Indians managed to get just six hits, which really didn’t help matters much. Elliot Johnson in the lead-off role was just baffling to me (he went 0-4 with three strikeouts, and has yet to get a hit this season). When Terry Francona decided to have Johnson bunt in the eighth inning, he couldn’t even lay the bunt down. If he’s supposed to be on the roster because he’s one of those versatile, toolsy kind of guys, shouldn’t he at least be able to put down a sacrifice bunt? The season isn’t even two weeks old yet, and I already groan every time I’ve seen Johnson’s name in the lineup. Even though he’s been fairly terrible so far, Asdrubal Cabrera actually had a good game at the plate. He went 2 for 4 and ended the game on a ball that was hit well…I thought at first it was going to get down for a hit. Otherwise, there was a lot of “blah” at the plate during this second game.
Last, but certainly not least, the other major issue that involved Johnson: the not-quite-dropped, but-called-dropped play in the outfield. I was still driving home from work at the beginning of the game, listening on the radio. All I had to go by (until I saw multiple replays) was Tom Hamilton’s commentary…and he was livid. He even went so far as to jokingly speculate that the umpiring crew in New York didn’t have high def screens and were unable to see the play clearly. However, it turns out that the interpretation of the “transfer rule” has been changed this season. Typically, as long as the player held onto the ball until he pulled it from his glove to throw, it was still considered a catch. Johnson clearly had control of the ball, and dropped it when he went to throw it to the infield. The umpires said “no catch” though, and Francona wasted his challenge trying to dispute the play. He wasn’t the first manager/team to get burned by this new interpretation, and I’m sure he won’t be the last. It’s unfortunate, because if that ball is considered a catch, Bauer and the Indians may have gotten out of the inning without the run scoring. Who knows if they still would have been able to win, but at least it would have titled the odds in their favor slightly.
The Indians split the doubleheader and still managed to win the series against the Padres. I think the only thing that I find frustrating was that the second game was definitely winnable; it’s not like the Scott Kazmir-Corey Kluber matchup in Oakland last week where it was fairly out of hand quickly. I tip my cap to San Diego’s pitching, but that doesn’t mean I’m letting the Indians offense off the hook. Nick Swisher (who did get a hit in game two) needs to start performing better. Jason Kipnis’s home run in game one is a step in the right direction, because he’s had his share of struggles as well. Cabrera needs to make this the start of a turnaround, not the statistical outlier to his pretty bad season so far (and I never even talked about his error in the first inning, which was also costly).
The Indians head to Chicago, where they’ll start a four-game series tomorrow. They’ll see the White Sox’s new Cuban player Jose Abreu, who frankly scares me. (As an Indians fan, who has to face him on a regular basis). The Tribe probably hopes to continue their 2013 domination of the Sox; I’d settle for some of these bats waking up and a series win this weekend.