OAKLAND -- Trevor Bauer can typically explain in great detail why a certain sequence went right or what caused something to go awry. After many starts this year, the Indians' starter has rattled off an opposing batter's slugging percentage on a specific pitch to an exact area of the strike zone.
In the wake of Bauer's abbreviated appearance in a 7-3 loss to the A's on Sunday afternoon, the pitcher did not have a clear answer as to why he was not himself. And now, as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline looms, Cleveland continues to search for answers to the rotation inconsistency that has contributed to the club struggling to hit its stride.
"I wasn't exactly sure," said Bauer, when asked what happened during a first inning that got away from him in a hurry. "I didn't have any feel for anything I was throwing. No feel for how my body was moving, where the ball was going. Nothing."
Bauer faced eight batters and recorded only two outs, matching the shortest start of his career. He walked three, allowed three hits and allowed four runs to score, piling up 43 pitches along the way. That marked the most pitches thrown in an inning by Bauer since 2014, and the fifth time in his career he topped 40 in a single frame.
His showing dug a hole too deep for an Indians team that has labored of late offensively. In the end, Cleveland was just dealt a series sweep by the A's.
"It's discouraging for a number of reasons," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "You're trying to win the game today. You're trying to salvage a game out of the series, and you're down four before you even look up. That's a hard way to play. You go through your whole bullpen. That wasn't our goal for today."
Over the past six weeks, Bauer had shown progress on the mound, but as his 5.59 ERA indicates, his season has been riddled with peaks and valleys. After ace Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, the Tribe's rotation has struggled with its reliability. Mike Clevinger has shown promise, Josh Tomlin (5.90 ERA) has taken his lumps, and Danny Salazar's enigmatic season has him still on the disabled list due to a right shoulder issue.
"Ultimately, what it comes down to is the acquisition cost." Indians weighing options as Deadline nears https://t.co/ueJJTvm7AJ via @mlb
It's worth noting, however, that while underperforming the expectations, the Indians' rotation has still been one of the better groups in the American League.
At the moment, Cleveland's starting staff ranks first in the AL in fielding independent pitching (3.78), strikeouts per nine innings (10.1), strikeout percentage (26.9) and strikeout-minus-walk percentage (19.4). The Indians' rotation ranks second in the AL in WAR (10.0, per Fangraphs) and third in walk percentage (7.5). The group's ERA (4.38) checks in at seventh, and the BABIP (.315) is tied for 12th-highest.
Salazar's situation, specifically, could impact how the Indians approach the non-waiver Trade Deadline at the end of the month. Getting a healthy and productive Salazar back might be better than anything the Indians can acquire on the open market, especially when factoring in potential acquisition cost. On Sunday, Salazar had a rehab outing with Triple-A Columbus, striking out nine with three walks and three hits allowed in six shutout innings.
"[Getting Salazar back] would be really helpful," Francona said Saturday. "When Danny's pitching well, that's a really nice arm to have in your rotation. We're trying to do it properly so when we get him back, we have a better chance for [him to be consistent]. But you know what? We've been inconsistent, but I like our team."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. 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.