LOS ANGELES (AP)Trevor Bauer is fighting to protect his pitching career, reputation and earning power in the face of his unprecedented two-season suspension without pay by Major League Baseball for violating MLB’s domestic violence and sexual assault policy.

Now, it’s an arbitrator’s turn to decide whether he ever plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers – or any other MLB team – again.

His punishmentwas meted out Friday for sexual abuse allegations he denies.

If the arbitrator sides with MLB, the 31-year-old pitcher’s full suspension of 324 games without pay would be upheld and Bauer would lose just over $60 million from a $102 million, three-year contract he signed last year. By that time, his contract with the team will have expired.

If Bauer wins, he faces the prospect of rebuilding his reputation, as well as potential public backlash and mending fences with MLB and his team.

Bauer became the Dodgers’ highest-paid playerafter they outdueled the New York Mets to bring the right-hander home in 2021. He was born in North Hollywood, attended high school in Santa Clarita and played at UCLA.

Public reaction at the time was mixed, not because of Bauer’s performance on the field, but his behavior off it. He had been involved in multiple controversies on social media, where he has a huge following, and some of the higher-profile incidents involved women.

Back then, Bauer told reporters, ”I’m doing my best to be better.” And Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, said the team’s due diligence focused on talking to Bauer, his former teammates and previous organizations.

”We came away from it feeling good about it,” Friedman said at the time. ”Now, obviously time will tell, but I feel like he’s going to be a tremendous add, not just on the field, but in the clubhouse and the community.”

By early July, everything had changed for the 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner.

A San Diego woman, whom the pitcher had met through social media, alleged Bauer beat and sexually abused her earlier in 2021. She later sought but was denied a restraining order. Los Angeles prosecutors said in February there was insufficient evidenceto prove the woman’s accusations beyond a reasonable doubt.

Bauer repeatedly has said that everything that happened between the two was consensual. He vehemently denied that he abused the woman.

He was put on administrative leave by MLB in July.

His absence over the second half of the season didn’t affect one of the best lineups in baseball. The Dodgers notched a franchise-record 106 wins and finished a game behind rival San Francisco in the NL West. They advanced to the National League Championship Series, losing in six games to the eventual World Series champion Atlanta Braves.

They’re rolling this season, too. Los Angeles beat the Detroit Tigers 5-1 Friday night and is tied for first place in the NL West with a 13-6 record.

The role of hometown hero has been assumed by first baseman Freddie Freeman, the Orange County native who was signed in March and quickly became a favorite of fans who serenade him with chants of ”Freddie! Freddie!”

Bauer’s teammates long ago publicly distanced themselves from the saga, which involves graphic descriptions of alleged sexual acts and domestic violence – including new allegations detailed Friday in the Washington Post from a woman in Ohio – which are in stark contrast to the family-friendly reputation the Dodgers cultivate.

Manager Dave Roberts said he didn’t address the team after Bauer’s two-year suspension was announced by Commissioner Rob Manfred.

”All I know is our guys have done a great job focusing on the job at hand and the guys in the room,” he said. ”That’s kind of where our head is at.”

Among 15 MLB players previously disciplined under the domestic violence and sexual assault policy, none appear to have challenged the penalty before an arbitrator.

It’s not surprising that Bauer would be the first. He’s long been a counterpuncher. He objected to MLB placing him on administrative leave last summer, and he was emphatic again Friday.

”In the strongest possible terms, I deny committing any violation of the league’s domestic violence and sexual assault policy,” he said in a statement.

Bauer has aggressively defended himself on social media against the accusations by the San Diego woman, as well as two women from Ohio who also accused him of sexual misconduct.

His representatives have said the first Ohio woman’s allegation is ”categorically false.” And Bauer said Friday that he had a ”casual and wholly consensual sexual relationship from 2013-2018” with the other Ohio woman and that none of their encounters ”ever involved a single non-consensual, let alone illegal, act.”

He has sued the San Diego woman for defamation.He’s also suing two media outlets for defamation over their coverage of the allegations.

When it comes to baseball, Bauer is confrontational, too. He has complained publicly about Manfred and gone to arbitration when he didn’t like a previous team’s salary offers.

Bauer’s suspension could be overturned on appeal, which means he could potentially rejoin the team. Roberts alluded to that when he said, ”I don’t think everything is finalized.”

Bauer hasn’t pitched since the San Diego woman’s allegations first surfaced last summer. Still, he has support among some Dodgers fans.

”She made accusations but no charges were filed,” said Stephanie Meraz, who attended Friday’s game. ”If there’s no evidence to prove he violated a code of conduct, he shouldn’t be suspended.”

Meraz said if Bauer wins his appeal, she’d ”definitely” like to see him pitch for the Dodgers again.

Another fan, Salina Hernandez, also disagrees with his suspension.

”I don’t think it’s fair,” she said. ”There were no charges.”

AP freelance writer Jill Painter Lopez contributed to this report.

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