YOKOHAMA – The Trevor Bauer era in Japan began Friday at an introductory news conference, where he pulled a blue and white Yokohama DeNA BayStars jersey over a white shirt and red tie.
The 2020 Cy Young Award winner is in Japan on a one-year deal that could let him prove himself and return to Major League Baseball, where he was unable to find work this season even after an arbitrator reduced his unprecedented 324-game suspension for violating the league’s domestic violence and sexual assault policy.
He was cut in January by the Los Angeles Dodgers, who still owe him $22.5 million this season.
Not a single Japanese reporter asked him about his suspension in the United States or the circumstances surrounding it.
The only question about it came from The Associated Press. Bauer disputed the fact the question suggested he was suspended from the major leagues.
“I don't believe that's accurate,” he said of the suspension. “But I'm excited to be here. I'm excited to pitch again. I've always wanted to play in Japan.”
He said afterward the suspension dealt technically with issues of pay, and he said he had contacted major league teams about playing this year. He would have been eligible, but he did not say if he had offers.
Bauer was released by the Dodgers three weeks after an arbitrator reduced his suspension imposed by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred from 324 to 194 games.
The penalty followed an investigation into domestic violence allegations, which the pitcher has denied.
Manfred suspended Bauer last April for violating the league’s domestic violence and sexual assault policy, after a San Diego woman said he beat and sexually abused her in 2021.
Bauer has maintained he did nothing wrong, saying everything that happened between him and the woman was consensual. He was never charged with a crime.
Bauer joined his hometown Dodgers before the 2021 season and was 8-5 with a 2.59 ERA in 17 starts before being placed on paid leave.
Bauer said his goal with the BayStars was to strike out 200 and keep his average fastball velocity at 96 mph — the latter is why he'll wear No. 96. He said he is also working on a better changeup pitch he called a “split change-up."
He said he hoped to play by mid-April — about two weeks after the Japanese season begins — and said he has been training for the last 1 1/2 years.
“I've been doing a lot of strength training and throwing,” he said. “I didn't really take any time off. So I've had a year and a half of development time. I'm stronger than ever. More powerful than ever."
Yokohama has not won a title in 25 years, and Bauer said that was his goal in the one-year deal.
“First and foremost, I want to help the Stars win a championship,” he said. “That involves pitching well. That involves helping teammates and learning from them. If they have questions — you know — share my knowledge with them.”
He also repeated several times about his desire to play in Japan, dating from a collegiate tournament in 2009 at the Tokyo Dome. He said playing in Japan while at UCLA was on his mind even before winning the Cy Young — and also immediately after.
“The Tokyo Dome was sold out,” he said. “I'd never played in front of that many people — probably combined in my life. In the United States, college games aren't very big, so seeing that amount of passion. How many people came to a college game in Japan. It really struck me."
He's been practicing with the Japanese ball, which he said was slightly softer with higher seams.
“But overall it just feels like a baseball and the pitches move the same. The velocity is similar. I don't notice much of a difference.”
He was asked about his level of Japanese, which is about zero.
“I don't know very much at all. I'm looking forward to learning,” he said. “The first things I need to learn are the baseball terms.”
Other teams in Japan have made similar contentious signings before.
Former major league reliever Roberto Osuna — who received a 75-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy — signed last season with the Chiba Lotte Marines. He has signed for this season with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.
In 1987, Dodgers relief pitcher Steve Howe, who had a career plagued with drug problems, tried to sign with the Seibu Lions. But he did not play in the country after the Japanese baseball commissioner disqualified Howe because of his history of drug abuse.
Bauer was an All-Star in 2018 and went 83-69 with a 3.79 ERA in 10 seasons for Arizona (2012), Cleveland, (2013-19), Cincinnati (2019-20) and the Dodgers. He won the NL Cy Young Award with Cincinnati during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Follow Japan-based AP sports writer Stephen Wade on Twitter at http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports