CHICAGO — Trevor Bauer’s arm strengthening program is as strenuous as any pitcher in baseball, punctuated by long-tossing sessions that can cover as much as 350 feet.
Thus, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona has no trepidation about having the 25-year-old right-hander start on short rest for the first time in his five-year career Sunday night as his tries to close out the Chicago Cubs and ace left-hander Jon Lester in Game 5 of the World Series at Wrigley Field.
The Indians are within one win of their first World Series title since 1948 after notching a 7-2 victory on Game 4 on Saturday night. The Cubs are one loss from a century-old drought continuing as they last won the Fall Classic in 1908.
Francona’s only concern about Bauer was the 10-stitch cut on his right pinkie finger that was sustained Oct. 13 while repairing one of the drones he flies as a hobby. The cut opened in the first inning on Oct. 17 and Bauer was forced to leave Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Bauer returned to the mound this past Wednesday in Game 2 and lost to the Cubs, lasting just 3.1 innings and needing 87 pitches to get 10 outs.
However, Francona is confident that Bauer will pitch better Sunday night. He bypassed rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt, who pitched 4.1 scoreless innings against the Blue Jays in the clinching Game 5 of the ALCS.
“Ryan did a really good job in his game in Toronto, but Trevor’s been a really good pitcher for us for four years,” Francona said. “If we thought that the finger was getting in the way, I understand it, but he’s come so far and battled this thing so much that I think his better game is ahead of him.”
Bauer is 0-1 with a 5.00 ERA in his three postseason starts following a regular season in which he had a 12-8 record and 4.26 ERA in 35 games, including 28 starts.
Bauer is admittedly very routine-oriented and was not happy to begin the season working out of the bullpen. However, despite his irregular schedule in the postseason, Bauer said he feels prepared despite pitching on three days’ rest.
“I don’t think it’s really that difficult at all,” Bauer said. “You prepare for the game the same way, and some games you go out there and you have a feel right away, and some games you go out there and you don’t. So, for whatever time I’m in the game, I do the same thing. I try to go with what’s working and find a feel for what’s not.”
Lester was the losing pitcher in Game 1 as he gave up three in 5.2 innings. He is 2-1 with a 1.71 ERA in postseason starts this season and 8-7 with a 2.60 ERA in 20 career appearances, including 18 starts.
Pitchers don’t normally face the same opponent in back-to-back starts and Lester believes he can benefit, especially after not facing the Indians in the regular season as the two teams did not meet in interleague play.
“There are a few guys over there that I haven’t faced a lot, if at all,” Lester said. “So, you’ll be able to draw from that information, make the adjustments that you need to make from the previous start and just kind of go from there.”
Lester, 32, went 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA in 32 starts, his .792 winning percentage leading the NL. Last season, his first after signing a six-year, $155 million deal as a free agent, he had an 11-12 record with a 3.34 ERA in 32 starts.
“He’s just been a different cat all year,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “More comfortable in his Cubs skin this year, and you could see that from day one.”
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