Bauer trying to make most of time in bullpen

Bauer trying to make most of time in bullpen

CLEVELAND -- It took Trevor Bauer a few days to digest the news that he was going to start this season in the bullpen. Even now, two weeks into the regular season, the young pitcher still states that his preference would be to eventually return to the Indians' rotation.

Cleveland has never ruled out that possibility, but the Indians also believe Bauer can become a versatile and impactful option out of the 'pen. Indians manager Terry Francona has said multiple times that he believes Bauer "can be a weapon" as a reliever, and a recent string of shutout innings by the right-hander have started to support that stance.

"I'm glad he feels that way," Bauer said.

Six innings are not enough to draw any firm conclusions, but Bauer's early work out of the bullpen has certainly made a strong first impression. Beyond that, if the righty wants to eventually transition back to the starting staff, continuing to pile up efficient relief innings can go a long way in convincing Cleveland to make the change at some point this season.

When discussing Bauer's situation, Francona has cited two previous situations.

One came in 2014, when Carlos Carrasco's struggles as a starter led to a stint in the 'pen. Carrasco fine-tuned his approach, excelled as a reliever and gained enough trust to eventually move back to the rotation, where he has now thrived. The other example the manager uses is reliever Zach McAllister, who was not thrilled about moving to the bullpen in '14, and again in '15, but has now evolved into a strong late-inning arm for the Indians.

"We make our decisions on what we think is best for our team," Francona said. "And sometimes it doesn't align with their own personal [plans], and we understand that and we respect that. But, most of the time, guys, they might take a day or two, but they find a way to bounce back, whether it's giving themselves a pep talk or their teammates taking care of them, or something. Trevor got to that point, which is good."

Through Cleveland's first 10 games, Francona has turned to Bauer four times and given him six innings of work. The right-hander has allowed two runs on six hits with eight strikeouts and two walks. In the process, Bauer has thrown 109 pitches with a 61-percent strike rate. If that pitching line came within a start, the Indians would be thrilled.

Bauer's last three appearances have included five shutout innings, including a pair of multi-inning outings. The only runs he has allowed to this point came in his season debut on April 5, when he issued a leadoff walk and later allowed a two-run home run to Boston slugger David Ortiz. Since that first jog in from the bullpen, Bauer has looked like a reliable option for Francona.

"It's always good to pitch well," Bauer said. "Any time I can go out there and have successful outings, regardless of the role, it's good. I view myself as being able to go out there and be successful in whatever role I'm in."

Bauer said he has continued to use the approach he utilized in Spring Training, when he had a 2.14 ERA with 20 strikeouts and five walks in 21 innings. Over the offseason, the righty also worked extensively on velocity training and his fastball has spiked so far this season. Through his six innings, his 95.6-mph average with his four-seamer is a considerable jump over last April (92.5).

Bauer has also narrowed his pitch usage out of the bullpen so far. The righty has focused on throwing four-seamers (37.8 percent), sinkers (20.7 percent) and cutters (22 percent). Due to his increased velocity, his slider is now read as a cutter by PITCHf/x. The splitter and reverse slider have yet to show up. It has been a more aggressive approach from Bauer, who does not need to worry about turning lineups over two or three times.

Perhaps down the road, it will be an approach he uses back in the rotation.

"I hope to get back to starting at some point," Bauer said. "So, I'll try to pitch as well as I can every time I go out there."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.