- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Trevor Bauer is no stranger to success or eye-popping numbers and accolades, but even by his lofty standards, the roll he’s currently on boggles the mind.
Bauer, a junior right-handed pitcher for UCLA, has pitched three consecutive complete games and gone 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA over that stretch. Add in 45 strikeouts in those 27 innings and you truly start to understand just how dominant Bauer has been.
He struck out 15 at Washington State, fanned 13 against Arizona and then matched his career with 17 strikeouts last weekend at Stanford.
For the season, Bauer is 8-1 with a 1.42 ERA and leads the nation with 127 strikeouts. Opponents are batting only .145 against him. He has won his last seven starts—a string that includes a one-hit shutout at USC and a four-hit shutout against Arizona—and has not lost a game since Feb. 26. He’s reached double digits in strikeouts in eight consecutive starts.
On the road this season, Bauer is 4-0 with a 1.02 ERA with 75 strikeouts in 44 innings.
“It’s just a sign that I’m giving my team a chance to win,” Bauer said. “The fewer people you let put the ball in play, the more chances you have of winning. That’s really what it’s all about for me.”
Last year, Bauer went 12-3 with a 3.02 ERA and led the nation with 165 strikeouts (a school record) and earned second-team all-American honors. He had 24 strikeouts in 15 innings during the College World Series as UCLA advanced to the national championship series.
But this year, he’s putting up national pitcher of the year type numbers and judging by the types of accolades he’s already received, it would be no surprise to see Bauer pop up on such year-end awards lists. He’s been named Louisville Slugger national player of the week for three consecutive weeks and has earned three consecutive Pac-10 player of the week awards. He's won the Louisville Slugger national award five times already this season.
Bauer credits increased velocity and better command of his fastball for his recent run of success. He worked all last offseason on conditioning and improving his fastball, choosing to train rather than play on any summer teams. He’s added two or three miles an hour and now is consistently hitting 93-95 miles an hour. He said he’s hit 97 several times and his goal is to reach 98 at some point this season.
But controlling that pitch has led to the recent dominance. He’s had no more than two walks in his last six starts and threw first-pitch strikes to 29 of the 34 batters he faced at Stanford last week.
“The command of his fastball has been exceptional,” coach John Savage said. “When he gets ahead of hitters, he’s as good as there is in the country to put hitters away. That’s the bottom line.”
That fastball also helps set up his secondary pitches. He has a knee-buckling curve ball and a change up that he’ll throw at any point to keep batters guessing.
“He’s throwing several pitches for strikes and he has several pitches that are swing and miss pitches so there’s really not a set pattern that you can track,” Savage said. “He’s stronger, has better stuff, he’s pounding the strike zone and has the ability to make hitters swing and miss with a number of different pitches. That’s a strong combination of things.”
If there is any concern about Bauer’s current run, it’s his pitch count. He’s thrown 135, 134 and 134 pitches in his last three starts and has thrown 120 or more pitches in seven of his 10 starts. Bauer, however, isn’t concerned.
He is a fitness freak who has a well-documented long-toss regimen he uses to keep his arm strong. He’s also scientifically studied pitching mechanics and says his knowledge of the pitching motion helps keep the wear and tear on his arm to a minimum.
“I don’t worry about pitch count,” he said. “I do a lot of studying on how to throw with good mechanics and healthy deceleration. It’s not 134 pitches of improper mechanics. It’s 130 of doing it right and no stress and maybe four of ‘gotta fix that.’ I think it’s a lot less stress on my arm than some guys who have never been taught how to decelerate properly.”
Whether or not Bauer can continue his remarkable recent run remains to be seen. He’ll get the opportunity Saturday when No. 20 UCLA (22-14, 10-5) faces No. 10 Oregon State (30-8, 10-2) in the second game of a key Pac-10 series.
Savage said the key for Bauer will be to not get into the mindset of having to one up himself every week.
“If you go out there thinking that you’re superman and try to get to 20 strikeouts, that’s not the right approach,” Savage said. “He’s made it look pretty easy, but it’s not. It’s just not. He’s a guy that has gotten better, but this is a humbling game so you better stay on your toes.”
And Bauer is well aware of that. He was 12-3 last season, but was only 4-3 in Pac-10 games—something he seems to be taking out on the conference this year. He’s 5-0 with a 1.43 ERA in Pac-10 play. But even though Bauer leads the conference in wins, strikeouts, opponent batting average and innings pitch Oregon State (30-8, 10-2) leads the conference standings.
“It’s an opportunity,” Bauer said. “We have a chance to go out there and do something about our destiny. But we can’t look at it as if we’re playing the opponent, we have to just play the game. I have to go out and execute my pitches and if I do that, the results will come.”