Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

A man and his drone: Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer marshals eccentricities

TORONTO — Trevor Bauer's pre-start routine includes shoulder tubes, stretch bands, weighted balls and long-toss from up to 400 feet. He claims to be able to throw 19 distinct pitches, including one called a "reverse slider."

A question to him about pitching mechanics is likely to get a response that includes phrases such as "laminar flow" and "elastic energy."

Dismayed by what he saw as the general decline in the craft of burrito-folding at Chipotle, he once offered to design a new, mess-proof method. Before the first pitch of the first game of his major-league career, he shook off the catcher's sign.

In other words, had anyone bothered to set odds before this 2016 MLB postseason on which player would injure himself while tinkering with a drone he had designed and built himself, Bauer, the right-handed pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, would have been the overwhelming favorite.

"I think it's a fairly well-known thing about me," Bauer, 25, acknowledged Sunday, "that I'm a big nerd."

Bauer said these words during the start of one of the more fascinating off-day interview-room sessions in recent postseason history, one that came roughly three days after Bauer had sliced open the tip of his right pinkie finger on one of the rotor blades of his drone and roughly 30 hours before he would take the mound at Rogers Centre, with stitches still holding his finger together, to face the Toronto Blue Jays in tonight's Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. The Indians have a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Typically, the interview sessions with the next day's starting pitcher are exercises in banality and cliche: How are you feeling? How will you attack the opposing lineup? Rarely is there occasion for anyone to ask: Exactly how did you cut yourself on your drone? Rarer still is a scenario in which the pitcher, by way of answering, holds up said drone to demonstrate.

"It was sitting like this," Bauer said, lifting the offending machine. "I was plugging the battery in, and my finger happened to be right here, and for whatever reason these three propellers didn't spin … and this one spun at max throttle. It never happened to me before. And my finger just happened to be in the way of the prop, and it cut me."

Bauer, who went 12-8 with a 4.26 ERA this year, said he immediately took a cab to the emergency room and alerted the Indians' management. As for whether the injury has compromised his ability to pitch in Game 3, he said, "it's really a non-issue."

Among the private fears the Indians must have had in 2012 when they acquired Bauer, a former first-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks, were whether his unorthodox training methods could mesh with an established major-league pitching program and whether Bauer's notoriously standoffish personality would rub teammates the wrong way.

They probably did not question whether Bauer would one day jeopardize the franchise's quest for its first World Series title in 68 years by getting his finger caught in the personal-craft equivalent of a food processor. Already, the mishap forced the Indians to adjust their starting rotation for the ALCS, with Bauer pushed back from Game 2 to Game 3, in order to give his finger more time to heal, and Josh Tomlin moving up from Game 3 to Game 2.

But the Indians have been quick to defend Bauer: "He was messing around with his drone — he wasn't out in some alley at 3 in the morning and got cut on a beer can," manager Terry Francona said. "It wasn't remotely malicious."

It wasn't the first time Bauer's drones have become an issue. In 2015, MLB's security arm ordered him to stop flying one of his drones over the Indians' spring training complex in Arizona, after he posted some aerial photos on Twitter. Another time, he crashed a drone into the giant video screen at Cleveland's Progressive Field.

"I was a mechanical engineering major (at UCLA), and technology and physics and stuff like that has always been a passion of mine my entire life," Bauer said. "This is just a great outlet for me to kind of get away from baseball a little bit."

Bauer had not yet discovered drones when the Diamondbacks made him the third overall pick of the 2011 draft. His problems in Arizona ran deeper than that. After the team abruptly traded him to Cleveland the next year, just four appearances into his big league career, rumors immediately circulated that he had alienated teammates and coaches beyond the point of repair.

Catcher Miguel Montero — whose sign Bauer had shaken off before the first pitch of his career — all but confirmed those rumors in a radio interview after the trade, saying, "When you get a guy like that (who) thinks he's got everything figured out, it's just tough (to) try to get on the same page."

Shortly after Montero made those remarks, Bauer released a self-penned rap song — yes, he dabbles in music production as well — called You Don't Know Me, featuring the lines, "You hide behind a mask to facilitate a task/But you don't know me."

The Indians, though, seem to have found the proper balance between allowing Bauer to be himself, while keeping him within the norms of their organizational pitching program.

"Over the years he's kind of come this way a little bit, and we've tried to come this way a little bit — and meet in the middle," Francona said. "We've also told him some things about our team that aren't negotiable, and he's handled those really well."

Bauer's Indians teammates, too, appear to have learned to accept his eccentricities — even the ones that put his own health, and by extension their championship hopes, in jeopardy — in a way the Diamondbacks never did.

"It's kind of funny — he's a big, dumb animal you need to babysit sometimes with his drones and his toys," said Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis. "I don't care. As long as he can still pitch for us, (it's), 'You're an idiot, but go get some outs now.' "

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