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Saturday, May 31, 2014
Three exciting young arms steal the show

By Jason Collette

In a day dominated by talk of comparing baseball games to wars and continued chirping between David Ortiz and David Price, three young arms stole the show with stellar performances on the mound in Cleveland, Boston and Toronto. Trevor Bauer, Rubby De La Rosa and Marcus Stroman flashed the skills that have excited talent evaluators and fans alike despite the varying levels and lengths of struggles each has faced in their careers.

Bauer faced a Colorado Rockies team that came into play with a league-best .341 weighted on-base average as a team. Colorado’s offense typically displays Jekyll-and-Hyde tendencies in terms of its home and road splits, and this season is no different. The team’s .400 wOBA at home is 49 points better than any other team in baseball, but its .295 wOBA in road games is 11th worst. Bauer was coming off a game against Baltimore in which he permitted four earned runs and nine baserunners in less than five innings of work. While he struck out eight Orioles in that game, he also permitted two home runs and walked three batters.

Trevor Bauer
Trevor Bauer tossed six innings of two-run ball against the Rockies, walking one and striking out eight.
Bauer’s outing against Colorado was arguably the best of the four starts he has made for Cleveland this season. He threw 70 of his 100 pitches for strikes, which forced Colorado batters to expand their strike zone while in protect mode at the plate. He induced 19 swings on pitches out of the zone and got the Rockies’ batters to swing and miss at 14 offerings while striking out eight in the contest. Bauer, as he often does, used a wide assortment of pitches, from a fastball that maxed out at 99 mph to a 12-to-6 curveball at 77 mph that froze Troy Tulowitzki with two men in scoring position to end the third inning.

The outing was Bauer’s third quality start in four outings this season after having just one quality start in the four starts he made at the major league level last season. His 2013 season at the big league level was bookended by two horrific outings: the first one saw him walk the first four batters of the game while the latter saw him get chased in the first inning after allowing six hits and five earned runs.

The 2014 version of Bauer is one that has simplified his delivery to stay on one side of the mound rather than drift back and forth on the rubber depending on the batter he is facing. His fastball command is noticeably better this season for a team that is looking for someone to step up behind Corey Kluber.

Rubby De La Rosa was making his first appearance of the season for the Boston Red Sox, hoping to erase a rather unimpressive showing in August and September last season. This season in Pawtucket, De La Rosa had a 3.04 ERA over 10 starts, allowing fewer hits than innings pitched, striking out nearly a batter an inning and not permitting a home run. Despite the statistical success, Boston wanted to see more pitch efficiency from him, something Tim Britton of The Providence Journal outlined a few weeks ago.

Against a Tampa Bay lineup that was missing Wil Myers and Yunel Escobar, De La Rosa had one of the best outings of the season by a Boston pitcher. He induced 17 swings and misses by Tampa Bay batters, which trailed only the 20 swings and misses John Lackey had against Atlanta on May 28. While his fastball hit triple digits at one point, it was his changeup that was most impressive on the evening. According to BrooksBaseball.net, De La Rosa threw the pitch 30 times, enticing 20 swings and generating 11 empty swings.

The win was Boston’s sixth consecutive win after its 10-game losing streak earlier this month.

Marcus Stroman was making his first start since being demoted to Triple-A earlier in May. Earlier this month, he worked five times out of the bullpen for Toronto and permitted 14 baserunners and nine earned runs in just over six innings of work. In his first start this season at the big league level, Stroman showed the side of himself that impressed evaluators during the 2013 Arizona Fall League and in parts of the 2014 Grapefruit League.

He established his fastball in this outing, throwing it 66 percent of the time to set up his breaking balls to finish off batters. That was the opposite of the approach he tended to take as a reliever, when he utilized his fastball just half the time and relied too much on his secondary pitches.

Despite throwing fewer secondary pitches, Stroman was able to get batters to chase more pitches (15) out of the zone against Kansas City than he had in his five relief appearances (13). He also generated 10 swings and misses on 48 pitches in this outing compared to the 12 swings and misses out of 57 swings while pitching in relief.

The outing was a learning experience for the sharp young pitcher from Duke as he figured out that he could generate empty swings with his fastball and his breaking ball.

Trevor Bauer, Rubby De La Rosa and Marcus Stroman all have bright futures in baseball. Bauer is in his second organization and has shown signs of putting his extreme struggles with command behind him. De La Rosa has overcome an elbow injury and a change in organization, and Saturday night looked like the prospect who first turned heads in 2011. Stroman, until Saturday, had struggled in May at both the minors and the majors. Today, each of these promising youngsters showed why their respective organizations and scouts are so high on the pitchers.

Jason Collette writes for The Process Report, a blog on the Tampa Bay Rays, and also contributes to FanGraphs and Rotowire.