Trevor Bauer's last Major League appearance came almost six weeks ago -- his first and only with Cleveland this season. Even so, it left the Tribe with plenty to feel excited about as Bauer prepares for his next challenge in Justin Verlander and the division-leading Detroit Tigers on Tuesday.
In a spot start against the Padres on April 9, the right-handed Bauer gave the Indians six strong innings of work, allowing just one earned run on four hits while inducing eight strikeouts. He took the loss and was optioned to Triple-A Columbus two days later, but the performance still gave Cleveland fans a small taste of what the young pitcher can do with his retooled delivery.
Since then, Bauer has backed up his lone big league outing with a handful of similarly strong ones with the Columbus Clippers. In seven Minor League starts this season, he owns a 4-1 record, a 2.15 ERA and has 44 strikeouts to only 14 walks.
"He was kind of bouncing around and we were glad we got a chance to glimpse the last outing, and then he went back to Triple-A and kicked it into gear," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "We've been talking for a year, this guy's a big part of what we want to do going forward. And to see him growing and understanding, it's exciting."
Keeping the good mojo flowing against the Tigers, however, will be no small task.
Detroit entered this series as one of the hottest teams in baseball, batting an American League-best .288 in the month of May. Much of that success has been fueled by sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, both of whom are hitting at a .375 clip and have combined for 11 home runs and 36 RBIs this month.
Bauer has yet to face the Tigers in his young career, but he knows their lineup is home to a handful of dangerous hitters.
"I don't know what their approach is going to be against me. I won't know that until I'm out there and seeing what they're doing the first time through," Bauer said. "We'll come up with a plan, go in with a plan of attack and obviously make adjustments on the fly to what they're doing and how the game's going."
Detroit will feature another potent arm on Tuesday in the form of Verlander, who has a 3.15 ERA in nine starts this season. He was roughed up by the Orioles in his last start after allowing a costly two-out walk that led to five two-out runs, and he finished with five earned over six innings.
"Walks are never good," Verlander said afterwards. "I seem to always have one or two in a big inning. I need to limit that a little bit."
However, the hard-throwing righty also has not allowed more than three earned runs in any other of his starts this season.
Last time out against the Indians, Verlander held Cleveland's lineup to three runs (none earned) in five innings of work. The Tribe offense has produced three or fewer runs in five of the last eight games and will have its work cut out against a Tigers team that owns the best record in the Majors.
"With how good Detroit's playing and how bad we're playing, I'm surprised it's only 10 games, to be honest. They only have 12 losses this whole year," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "We haven't done ourselves any favors, though. We're a quarter way through. Needless to say we haven't played consistent or good in any aspect of the game. Pitching, hitting, defense, we know it's been a struggle for us."
Verlander used to dread pitching in Cleveland, having lost seven of his first eight starts against the Tribe. Across his last 12 outings at Progressive Field, however, eight of them have been quality starts, including an eight-inning, one-run performance last August.
Tigers: Lineup athletic and diverse
While Cabrera and Martinez have generated much of the buzz in Detroit this month with their power at the plate, the rest of the team's lineup possesses almost as much speed as it does muscle.
Left fielder Rajai Davis has 14 stolen bases on the season, which is the fifth best mark in baseball. Center fielder Austin Jackson has swiped six bags of his own to go with two triples, and second baseman Ian Kinsler has scored 29 runs on the year.
"I think they got a little more athletic," Francona said. "Kinsler at second. They lost their shortstop that they seemed to have covered up [Andrew Romine]. They've gotten more athletic, and when you run those pitchers out there every day, you're in every game."
Indians: Kipnis approaching return
The presence of Cleveland's All-Star second baseman has been sorely missed since a strained right oblique landed Kipnis on the 15-day disabled list in early May.
Kipnis was batting just .234 with two home runs before hurting himself and had not quite found his rhythm at the plate. As he looks ahead, he hopes that he can begin participating in rehab games by the end of the week.
"We still have some hoops to jump through, some stages to go through," Kipnis said of his recovery. "We still got to crank it up in terms of the amount of swings, the high-intensity swings, grounders, throws. If I'm sore will dictate whether we go into games or not."
• The Indians are expecting veteran designated hitter Jason Giambi (calf) to be activated on Tuesday. The 43-year-old began his second stint on the disabled list on May 5 after missing time in April due to a broken rib. Giambi has only made 11 plate appearances this season.
• A series of travel delays kept the Tigers from getting to Progressive Field until 4:25 p.m. ET on Monday -- just three hours before first pitch. Manager Brad Ausmus was not all that concerned with the effects it would have on his team for the series opener, but he did note that it could be a factor for the second game.
"Today probably won't be as bad as tomorrow," Ausmus said Monday. "I think tomorrow they'll feel the effects a little bit more than today."
• Starting pitcher Aaron Harang, who was released by the Indians at the end of Spring Training, is in the midst of an impressive first-half campaign for the Atlanta Braves. Through nine starts, he has maintained a 2.98 ERA while striking out 9.77 batters per nine innings. Francona said that the team heavily deliberated on whether to keep Harang as insurance or let him go.
"[Pitching depth is] why we agonized towards the end of Spring Training about the decisions," he said. "That's why we talked about Harang at length. We knew most likely you're going to go through some starters."