Bauer’s late start yields early success

Freshman pitcher's transition into college-level ball has taken him from closer to starter to national star

Recently honored as the National Freshman Pitcher of the Year by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, Trevor Bauer pitches against UC Davis.

Recently honored as the National Freshman Pitcher of the Year by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, Trevor Bauer pitches against UC Davis. Kimberly Lajcik

After arriving on campus three months late, freshman pitcher Trevor Bauer anticipated a season of transitions in Westwood.

While other members of the UCLA baseball team competed during the fall, Bauer was still a student at Hart High School. Seeking a challenge, he graduated early and enrolled at UCLA with the collegiate baseball season less than two months away.

Despite his late arrival, coach John Savage could not keep talent like Bauer’s off the mound.

So Savage handed Bauer a limited role as the Bruins’ closer to begin the season. Those relief appearances quickly turned into midweek starts.

Eventually, Bauer stopped coming out of the bullpen altogether, and before long, he was a vital part of the team’s weekend rotation.

“My idea of my role on the team this year was to kind of learn the program,” Bauer said. “I didn’t really see myself being in the weekend rotation or having a chance to start.”

But Bauer got his chance to start during the weekend and did not squander the opportunity.

The 6-foot-1-inch right-hander started a total of 10 games and led an experienced pitching staff in nearly every category including earned-run average (2.99), wins (9) and complete games (4). The conference recently named Bauer the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, while Collegiate Baseball Newspaper pegged him as the National Freshman Pitcher of the Year.

Though he said he was honored to gain national recognition, Bauer said that he would trade in all the awards for something that is no longer possible ““ the Bruins competing in the NCAA tournament.

“Ultimately, our team did not make a regional and that’s not acceptable for me,” he said. “Personal accolades are great, but I rather not have any of them and reach a regional.”

Despite posting a 27-29 record, the Bruins had hope of earning a bid into the NCAA tournament heading into the final week of play, due in large part to the contributions of Bauer. The 18-year-old was most impressive during conference play, when he posted a perfect 7-0  record in seven starts.

Bauer’s undefeated efforts were not enough for the Bruins, however, as they missed the postseason for the first time in four years.

“It’s just fun to see that he’s doing it this early in his career,” Savage said following a game in late April. “People are expecting so much out of him.”

Bauer was not the only UCLA pitcher facing high expectations. Fellow freshman Gerrit Cole was the most hyped-about incoming player in the nation after being selected 28th overall by the New York Yankees in last June’s MLB Draft. Cole gave up the opportunity to play professionally as he eventually committed to play for the Bruins. Like Bauer, Cole lived up to the hype, earning first-team All-Pac-10 accolades and a spot on the Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-America team.

“I feel blessed to be mentioned as a headliner of a D-I baseball program’s rotation,” Bauer said. “I’m not sure what my limits are, but I’m pretty sure (Cole) doesn’t have any limits. In the next couple of years he can accomplish anything he wants to.”

The same can now be said for Bauer, who along with Cole, was invited to the 2009 USA Baseball National Team Trials to be held later this month in Cary, N.C.

“It shows the strength of our pitching staff at UCLA,” said Bauer, who participated in USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars last year. “I’m a big supporter of Gerrit. It will be a comfort knowing someone out there.

“It’s a great opportunity. It would be a wonderful honor to put on the country’s colors, so I’m definitely excited to be given a chance to try out.”

Regardless of whether he makes the team or not, Bauer said he will try to use the summer to concentrate on improving as a pitcher. Yet if he does not make the national squad, Bauer will get some much-needed rest after tossing a team-high 105.1 innings last season. Cole, who held opposing hitters to a team-low .191 batting average, was the next closest with 85 innings of work.

“I personally don’t want to pitch too much this summer,” Bauer said. “I don’t want to put many more innings on my arm and coach has been very understanding of that.”

Though a durable and versatile pitcher, no one envisioned Bauer leading the team in innings pitched, much less making the impact he did.

With standout pitchers such as Cole, Gavin Brooks, Charles Brewer, and Garett Claypool on the staff, no one could have predicted Bauer’s impressive campaign ““ not even Bauer himself.

“I figured I would have more of a limited role,” he said. “But I’m glad it worked out that way for me.”

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