Before he got the call up to the big leagues in May of 2018, Shane Bieber was not known for striking hitters out. 

“I’ve never been that much of a punchout pitcher especially coming up through the minors,” the 25-year-old Bieber said. “The book on me was pitch to contact, this and that. But, I’ve made some adjustments over the past couple of years.” 

Those “adjustments” have led the once UC Santa Barbara walk-on and 2019 back-end rotation starter to Major League history in 2020. With 13 strikeouts in his eight-inning gem, part of a 2-0 win for the Indians over the Twins Thursday night, Bieber reached a total of 27 K’s over his first two starts and made history in the process. 

Cleveland’s ace shattered Nolan Ryan’s American League record of 25 punchouts over the first two starts of a season, a mark that has not been touched since 1978. Bieber is now tied for the modern era (1901) record, joining with Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Karl Spooner at the mark of 27 met way back in 1954. 

In total, Bieber allowed just three hits on no runs in the eight innings on Thursday, striking out a baker’s dozen to not a single walk. 

“He’s something special. He’s, I believe, going to be a Cy Young pitcher one day,” Tribe reliever James Karinchak said. “Every time he goes out there, that’s what I expect him to do. He’s so nasty. He commands everything. He just makes every hitter uncomfortable.” 

“It was really fun to catch him,” Sandy Leon, who is currently the Tribe’s main pitcher with Roberto Perez sidelined (right shoulder soreness), said. “Any pitch, any count. When you have a guy like that on the mound, it’s really fun to just have a gameplan. You know he’s going to execute ahead in the count and behind in the count to get back in it. It was pretty fun.” 

When asked what pitch was Bieber’s strongest, Leon kept the answer simple with a smile: “every one.”

This performance was not just against any typical lineup. Bieber was making a Twins order that led all of Major League Baseball with 307 home runs last year look silly. 

“Keeping them off balance,” Bieber said when asked about the gameplan against Minnesota’s power lineup. “We see them a ton, seen them a ton last year and we’re going to see them quite a bit this year so you can go out there with a gameplan and you stick with it as long as possible. I feel like me and Sandy were on the same page from the get and we were able to make adjustments pretty early on. That’s what it’s about when you’re pitching in the division. Teams that have seen you quite a bit and can make adjustments quick, you gotta make your adjustments quicker.”

Indians manager Terry Francona said pregame that throughout the first time around the rotation, it showed how prepared Indians starters were for the season but that the Twins would bring a whole new type of challenge. The respect he had for Minnesota was shown through his postgame praise for his ace.

“That was just some unbelievable pitching tonight because you don’t see that very often against these guys,” Francona said.

“I thought he (Bieber) was pretty good,” he added with some sarcasm. “That’s probably the understatement. Their lineup is so deep and so good and he just executed pitches from pitch one to  the one inning (sixth, runners at first and second with one out) when they ran some deep counts. He can throw any pitch in any count. That really, really helps him. When they got into an aggressive mode with runners on base, he was able to spin the ball. He was in full counts where he got swing-and-miss out of the zone.” 

Francisco Lindor, who delivered the only offense in the game with a two-run shot to right in the third, laughed when asked what the formula was for facing Bieber. 

“I won’t help the teams, so good luck figuring it out,” Lindor said. “Yeah, there’s a way. Good luck. It wasn’t fun hitting against him in summer camp.”

“I try to sit at shortstop and call pitches from my view,” he added. “Sometimes I’m thinking as a hitter, ‘Oh, okay, if he throws this pitch right here, I’ll take it. And then he throws a completely different pitch and it’s like ‘BOOM!’. It’s fun to watch.”

For the guys in blue and red based out of Cleveland, it is. For the ones in blue and red that call Target Field home, it was the furthest thing from the meaning of ‘fun’ on Thursday night. 

Bieber became just the fourth pitcher in baseball history to record 10-plus strikeouts with no runs allowed in their first two starts, joining Jacob deGrom (2019), Ryan (1978) and Spooner (1954). He is at the top of a rotation in which all seven starters have gone six or more innings, and allowed two or fewer runs. That breaks a previous franchise record of six set by the Cleveland Naps in 1905 and it matches the Major League record, held by the 1993 Atlanta Braves. 

In total, Cleveland starting pitchers have totaled 47 innings, holding a 1.53 ERA. The most telling stat: 67 strikeouts to just three walks. Even those numbers would break MLB The Show

Mike Clevinger will seek to break the big league mark when he gets the ball Friday for an 8:10 pm ET first pitch in Minnesota, going up against Randy Dobnak, who’s in the Twins rotation for the injured Jake Odorizzi. 

Photo: Ken Blaze/USA Today

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.