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Three Strikes: Mondesi Jr.’s odd PED situation; Lorenzo Cain breaks out

In Tuesday’s Three Strikes, Kenny Ducey looks at Raul Mondesi Jr.’s odd PED situation, Lorenzo Cain’s resurgence and Trevor Bauer’s strong work as a starter.

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After a packed day of baseball on Tuesday, here are three things that stood out:

An unexpected decision

The relationship between baseball and the word “knowingly” is growing tired. Barry Bonds claimed he did not “knowingly” take the steroids that tainted his career, David Ortiz wrote that he has never “knowingly” taken performance-enhancers, Dee Gordon did not “knowingly” ingest the substance Clostebol, and now, top Royals prospect Raul Mondesi Jr. says he “did not know” the cold medicine he recently took contained a banned substance.

Put simply, baseball players must know what’s going in their bodies at all times. While we’ll likely never know if Mondesi was simply using cold medicine as a cover, and intended to cheat by ingesting the drug Clenbuterol, the league accepted his excuse and reduced his ban from 80 to 50 games. While it’s Mondesi’s own fault for carelessly taking this medicine, the disciplinary action taken is somewhat odd.

Explaining MLB's recent wave of PED bans, and what league can do

​If the league truly believed that Mondesi was innocent, it should not have disciplined him at all. If there was the smallest bit of doubt about his honesty, the standard 80-game suspension should have stood. There should be no in-between when it comes to MLB’s drug policy. Either you cheated, or you didn’t. The league’s willingness to reduce bans for certain substances allows players to be halfway-guilty.

A drug policy with a once rugged and sturdy structure has all of the sudden prompted several questions. How much of a substance in your system triggers a positive test? Is a small dose of Clostebol worth an 80-game suspension? Players might be getting better at lying about cheating, or Mondesi, Gordon and Chris Colabello could be the product of a flawed system.

VERDUCCI: Why MLB needs to hand out harsher PED suspensions

One thing’s certain—a lifetime ban for a single positive test doesn’t sound so great anymore. At this rate, a player might earn a suspension for drinking water in the not-so-distant future.

Starting the climb

Lorenzo Cain, a career contact hitter who recently added power to his game in 2015, had just 35 career home runs entering Tuesday. Then, he put three into the seats in a 10–7 loss to the Yankees; two off errant off-speed pitches from starter Masahiro Tanaka, and one on a slider from set-up man Andrew Miller in the eighth to tie the game at 7. It was Cain’s first career three-home run game, and just the seventh in Royals history.

For the 15–17 Royals, Cain’s power can’t return soon enough. Though the 30-year-old centerfielder has reached base in 11 of his last 12 games, hitting .365 over that span, he began the day with just three extra-base hits all season and his slugging percentage sits at a career-low .316.

Cubs making history and earning believers with red-hot start

Cain’s average exit velocity is a far cry from where it sat for most of last summer, hovering above league average in April, but has crept back up in recent weeks. That climb culminated in a blistering 109 mph shot off Tanaka in the fifth that traveled a projected 445 feet and gave him his third career multi-homer game. He killed the Yankees all night long on pitches up in the zone—something that he doesn’t do often—and almost singlehandedly brought the Royals level with New York in their four-game series.

The feat was not easy; Cain’s homer off Miller marked the first run the reliever had yielded all season, and the two he hit off Tanaka doubled the Japanese import’s home run total entering the game.

Kansas City has fallen behind the red-hot White Sox, and the Indians, in the AL Central due to its frigid offensive output. A Cain resurgence is the first step toward climbing out from the bottom five in the league in runs scored.

That’s [Trevor] Bauer!

Much like the world’s most recognizable Bauer—a fictional character on a popular crime drama from the early 2000’s—Trevor Bauer’s journey in the big leagues has been winding. He’s gone from coveted asset, to trusted arm, to rogue arm, to the bullpen, all by the age of 25.

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​Even this season, a surprisingly fruitful one for the Indians early on, Bauer’s role has fluctuated. He began the year in the bullpen, and was used mainly in meaningless spots (he’s pitched to just nine hitters in high-leverage situations all year) before being moved to the rotation in late April.

On Tuesday night in Houston, Bauer looked the part of a reliable field agent—err—starting pitcher, firing seven innings of three-hit ball en route to a 4–0 win over the Astros. He induced 18 swinging strikes and struck out seven, flexing an impressive two-seamer and fooling Carlos Correa and Colby Rasmus in the sixth.

In just three starts this season, Bauer has made a strong case to stick around in Cleveland’s rotation. He’s now struck out 15 batters over 16 ⅔ innings in those outings, increasing his whiff rates and seeing a decrease in the line drives he’s yielding. Bauer seems to have everything in control for now, but we’ve been through this before. Now, we’ll see if he’s ready to become a consistent performer.