By Arnie Stapleton Associated Press
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Trevor Bauer’s jaw-dropping endeavors aren’t limited to his ridiculous repertoire of 10 pitches or his freakish athletic ability.
There’s his dazzling pregame long toss foul pole to foul pole, his curious contortions while he stretches and the crow hops across the mound before he unleashes a 100 mph heater on the first warm-up throw before every inning.
The 21-year-old right-hander, who is slated for Class AA this year but could be pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks this season, is a modern day mixture of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych and Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky with a sliver of Turk Wendell sprinkled in for good measure.
“I’ve never seen anybody warm up like that. He’s unique,” said catcher Henry Blanco.
There is a method to his madness.
Bauer is not just baseball’s latest character or curiosity, but maybe its next genius and certainly the game’s most recent subject of intense scrutiny by baseball executives wondering if this young man’s eccentric methods might be a better way to preserve power pitchers’ arms.
Bauer spends hours working to synchronize his body and mind before taking the mound. He uses shoulder tubes, stretch bands, weighted balls, all to help him maintain strength and elasticity to prevent injury and maximize his arm speed.
Bauer, who retired all six Colorado Rockies he faced in his first action against big league hitters last weekend, went 38-4 with 460 strikeouts in three seasons at UCLA, where he often retreated to the bullpen during long innings when the Bruins were at bat to work out kinks or stay sharp. He was the consensus national collegiate player of the year last season before the D-Backs made him the third overall pick of the draft.
Bauer’s father, Warren, a chemical engineer, taught his son to view baseball through a scientific prism, and Bauer went on to study mechanical engineering at UCLA so he could apply that knowledge to the mound.
“Engineers are trained to be problem-solvers,” Bauer said. “So, you identify what your problem is and then you identify the process of how you’re going to go about collecting information to solve it and then you go about doing it. It’s a very linear thought process.”
He mixed classroom education with the on-field instruction he received at Ron Wolforth’s Texas Baseball Ranch and by spending time with Los Angeles long-toss guru Alan Jaeger.
Bauer’s brainpower and physics background are woven into his preparation and readily apparent in his mechanics.
“It’s just like a figure skater, so just all of those physics concepts like momentum, rotational inertia and elastic energy, stored energy and potential energy and all that different stuff, it goes into the delivery in a very big way for me,” said Bauer, who generates plenty of power for a pitcher generously listed at 6-foot-1.
“I’m just amazed at his arm strength and his arm speed,” D-Backs pitching coach Charles Nagy said, comparing Bauer, who weighs 185 pounds, to Pedro Martinez and Tim Lincecum.
Bauer, who never pumps iron but throws medicine balls in the weight room, commands 10 pitches, including a 97 mph fastball, but he can throw twice as many, including a “reverse slider” he invented, which is basically a hard screwball, and “the bird,” a split fastball thrown with the middle finger raised.
To avoid injury, he loosens up his body so that “all the links in the chain” are well-oiled before he unleashes his throws.
He starts off throwing the ball free and easy, backing up a couple of steps after each high-arcing toss. He moves back to 120 feet, then 150, 200, 300, 360, sometimes even 400.
By then, he has a relay man because his catcher can’t return throws all the way across the field like that, and neither can any of the other pitchers.
When Bauer finally feels loose, he unleashes a throw from that distance with all his might.
“OK, I’ve loosened my body up, all the joints and everything,” Bauer said. “Now, I’m going to get it all linked up and connected on my way in so that when I hop on the mound everything’s working in sync and I have to just worry about locating the ball.”
On his way back in during the “pull down” phase, he continues to throw it as hard as he can, from 350 feet, 300, 280 and so forth.
Every one of those 10 to 20 throws is at maximum intensity. Before long, he’s 60 feet, 6 inches away from his catcher and zipping leather-popping fastballs with a smooth, loose delivery.
He’ll throw for about five minutes on flat ground in the outfield, then hop on the side mound for 10 minutes.
“And then I’m ready to go.”
And watch out!
Bauer hustles out to the field, picks up the ball and crow hops over the mound to let loose a fiery fastball at his catcher.
Or sometimes the ground. Or the backstop.
“It really isn’t a control issue on those; it’s just let the body go and be free and move efficiently,” Bauer said. “So, wherever they go, I don’t really care. That’s why I tell my catcher to stand up, so I don’t bounce one and chew him up. If I throw one to the backstop, you know, who cares?”
The only accommodations Bauer has had to make at his first spring training are not wearing earphones on the field and “that I fit my routine basically around the team’s schedule. Other than that, it’s free rein, just go out there and do what makes you successful.”
Bauer said the music helps him find his internal rhythm, so without it, he listens to bands such as Haste or Disturbed in his head instead.
Others may call him eccentric, but Bauer insists he’s just a normal guy who’s pretty certain he’s discovered a better way for young power pitchers to preserve their arms.
The Diamondbacks are letting Bauer do his thing, but they’ll be keeping a close eye on him as he gets used to starting every fifth day rather than once a week like he did in college.
“He throws a lot of variations of all pitches,” Nagy said. “He’s a mechanical engineer, so he tinkers with things and he’ll turn a slider into a cutter into a sweeper, he’ll throw three different variations, but right now we just want him to go out and establish his fastball.”
A lot of pitchers do long tossing, although throwing from farther than 120 feet has been taboo during this age of 110-pitch counts.
Some observers wince at Bauer’s methods, figuring he’ll hurt himself. But Bauer has never been hurt and insists he’s actually preventing injury by not just picking up a ball 10 minutes before warming up in the bullpen.
“I think what people do sometimes is they have muscles that aren’t turned on or their joints aren’t warmed up and they start throwing. So, if all the joints aren’t warmed up, all the stress is going to go to the muscles. If the muscles aren’t warmed up, then all the stress is going onto your ligaments and your tendons,” Bauer said.
Bauer said the first lollypop throw he makes actually is more stressful on his arm than the heaters he’s throwing by game time.
As for feedback, he hasn’t gotten much from his teammates so far, so he has no idea what they think of his peculiar program, particularly the extra-long toss when he’s throwing full force.
“Their reaction is about 400 feet away, so I don’t really notice,” Bauer said. “Sometimes they scatter when I overthrow one. But, I don’t know. They watch.”
Along with everyone else.