INDIANS RIGHTHANDER Trevor Bauer likes to throw the ball as high and far as he can, an arm-strengthening practice known as long toss, and he does so three to five times per week. "It's done with a very fluid motion," says Bauer, Cleveland's No. 3 starter. "It appears to be effortless because the body is very synced up. It's not effortless. It's actually max effort, but it can only happen when the body is connected. To launch a ball 300, 350 or 400 feet, it takes a high level of athleticism. That's a big reason why I like it."
As an 11-year-old, Bauer attended a Southern California clinic run by Alan Jaeger, a self-proclaimed nonscientific long-toss expert who has also worked with Barry Zito and Dan Haren. "I've lived this on the field as a teacher for 24 years, and as a thrower of a baseball for 35 years," says Jaeger. "You know in your bones exactly what happens when you long-toss. You become an athlete. You stretch your arm out. You free yourself up to become natural." Long toss, in Jaeger's view, is the antithesis of all the mechanical instruction pitchers receive.
Bauer says there's a right and wrong way to long toss—"Most important is that you listen to your body. Listen to your arm. It shouldn't hurt"—and adds that as he's learned to throw the ball farther, he's naturally added velocity.
"When I threw the ball 300 feet, that translated to about 80 miles per hour on the mound," Bauer says. "As I've gotten to where I can throw a ball 420-ish feet, I've been able to hit 100."
Long toss, as Jaeger teaches it, is somewhat controversial in pro baseball. A number of clubs limit their pitchers to 120 feet and insist they throw the ball on a line, not with an as-high-as-you-want-it arc, as Jaeger's students do. They also limit long-toss sessions to 10 minutes. Bauer says his long-toss sessions can last up to 20 or 30 minutes, depending on how he feels, and usually end with a series of pitches thrown from 60 feet, six inches.
"Because his arm has such great strength, it's allowed Trevor to really work at his craft," Jaeger says. "Long toss allows him to not only throw with freedom and athleticism and arm strength, it allows him to throw a lot."
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Long and Strong
Jaeger says there is no set number of throws or length of time to stay at each distance. The key is to "listen to your arm," says Jaeger. Each age group can start 10- to 20-feet apart and gradually move back, making the initial throws at approximately a 25-degree angle. In middle distances the thrower should incorporate a crow hop, using the legs to help take some strain off the arm. The final distance, which is an approximation, should use a 35-degree arc. After reaching the peak distance, throwers should come back in 10-foot increments with each throw while maintaining the same intensity. Once the arm is in shape, throwing three to five days a week is encouraged.
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TONY DEJAK/AP (BAUER)
ILLUSTRATIONS BY JASON LEE