DURHAM—The Diamondbacks’ Double-A Mobile club won the Southern League championship last year en route to earning Baseball America’s Team of the Year award.
Many of those BayBears played in 2012 for Triple-A Reno, and the likes of Tyler Skaggs, Jake Elmore, Adam Eaton and Ryan Wheeler were among the players who helped Reno win the Pacific Coast League’s Pacific Northern Division.
All those players are gone, but a core of players who helped Mobile win last year has continued on with Reno this season, including righthander Trevor Bauer. He won the Southern League playoff clincher last year, and Tuesday he’ll try to pitch Reno to a Triple-A National Championship at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Bauer and the Aces will face International League champion Pawtucket in the one-game Triple-A title game, weather permitting. The ominous Tuesday forecast didn’t damper Bauer’s spirits as he prepared to square off against righthander Nelson Figueroa, the 38-year-old veteran who will start for the PawSox.
“He was four years old when I got drafted; here we are,” said Figueroa, 12-5, 3.89 overall in the IL this season and 2-0, 1.29 in the playoffs. “We are both at opposite ends of our careers. I live in Arizona and I have followed his story a little bit. It is going to be fun. I think that everybody that knows me knows that you can throw the age out the window. I am a kid at heart. I am going out there to compete with him. He can be twenty-whatever and I will be maybe a year older.”
Pawtucket, like Reno, has lost several key cogs to big league callups in the last month, from catcher Ryan Lavarnway to infielders Pedro Ciriaco and Jose Iglesias. Led by Figueroa and a solid bullpen featuring righthanders Joshua Fields and Jose de la Torre, they’ve pitched extremely well in the playoffs with a 55-13 strikeout-walk ratio and 2.01 ERA in six games.
Reno manager Brett Butler got to save Bauer for the title game when his Aces beat Omaha in four games to win the PCL. He’s seen Bauer win both of his postseason starts despite walking 10 in 11.1 innings. Bauer threw more strikes during the Triple-A regular season, averaging 3.84 walks per nine innings while going 5-1, 2.85 in 14 starts.
“He has in-tune ability on his mechanics, his emotions,” Butler said. “He’s got three or four big league pitches. The bottom line is he knows how to pitch. He has an unorthodox style of pitching, but there is not another guy on the field that prepares more.”
Bauer has pitched 158.1 innings overall, counting his major league time and playoff stint, and pitched nearly this deep into the season last year. He’s not expecting fatigue to be a factor.
“There’s definitely things that go with that, your body’s a little bit tired so your stuff may not be as good, or you’re worn down mentally so you might not be as focused, but everyone’s at that point this year,” he said. “There’s no one out here who’s feeling fresh or as well as they did in spring training.
“I feel like I’ve weathered it pretty darn well. I feel good physically; I feel good mentally. It will be good to get out there.”
“I like to be on the field when everything’s on the line, I like being a part of it and feeling that adrenaline rush. I really enjoy feeling like I am contributing to the team winning.”
Several veterans have contributed on the offensive side for the Aces, such as first baseman Mike Jacobs, who has four homers in nine postseason games, and outfielder A.J. Pollock (.316, six extra-base hits). Middle infielder Taylor Harbin and Pollock and righthander Charles Brewer are part of the core of players who were on the BayBears last season and already have won the PCL title after moving up this season.
They have their championship rings, but they have a chance to win another Tuesday night.
“This is huge,” Figueroa said. “A lot of guys will never get this opportunity, no matter their draft class, no matter their Baseball America ranking or what their prospect status is. For me to have this opportunity is a tremendous honor.”
Contributing: Andrew Krause