Mookie Betts is back. Cody Bellinger is still out.
The reigning World Series champion Dodgers have the best record in baseball and are the favorite to repeat in 2021.
But none of that matters every five days when Trevor Bauer takes the mound. The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner is must-watch viewing because it’s baseball theater. He huffs and puffs. He talks to himself and beats his chest. He probably leads the league in struts per strikeout and smirks per batter.
He stares batters down. He sometimes pitches with one eye closed.
But most of all, he dominates, and that’s why the Dodgers signed him to a three-year, $102 million deal. On Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, Bauer struck out nine batters over seven dominant innings in the Dodgers’ 7-0 victory against the Rockies.
Bauer’s lone blemish — if you can call it that — was a soft infield single to the left side by Garrett Hampson in the third inning. Bauer pounced on it with a sliding backhanded grab, but he could not complete the play at first with an accurate throw.
“I was sliding backhand away from probably throwing a no-hitter,” Bauer said. “I had really good stuff. I wish I could have been a little bit more accurate on that throw and had a chance to finish it off.”
It was the Dodgers’ third shutout in the last four games.
Bauer has allowed only six runs while racking up 29 strikeouts in 20 innings over his three starts this season. He came within a strikeout on Tuesday of tying the record for the most consecutive outings with 10 or more strikeouts to start a season (3) with Shane Bieber (2021), Gerrit Cole (2018), Rich Hill (2015), Randy Johnson (2000), Nolan Ryan (1973) and Sam McDowell (1970).
What the right-hander did accomplish was become the first pitcher in Dodgers history to begin a season with three consecutive starts of six or more innings with no more than three hits allowed.
How good has Bauer been? He has not allowed a hit in 17 of the 21 innings in which he’s appeared in this season.
Everything was working for Bauer on Tuesday. He used each of his pitches — cut fastball, slider, curve and fastball — to strike out at least one batter. He retired the last 14 batters he faced.