A college pitcher in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB Draft, Shane Bieber received a call that he was headed to an organization that was loaded with arms. The immediate future seemed cloudy, of course, as most of these arms were starting pitchers of the controlled contract variety with no indication of slowing down. Injury and ineffectiveness struck, forcing Shane Bieber to the forefront of the Cleveland Indians starting pitch depth conversation in Spring Training, a mere 20 months after being drafted. He was fast-tracked through the minor league ranks with an evident plan – his success didn’t hurt. He made the requisite stops – at the three variations of A-ball, Double-A, and Triple-A – but these stops were of the short and sweet variety. An average of approximately 55 innings at each level was enough to show how highly the Indians’ front office regarded Bieber.
Thanks to Carlos Carrasco catching another line drive off an extremity and Josh Tomlin serving up beach balls for two months, the American League Central favorites are forced into a situation in which they must rely on Bieber to patch them through. His two Major League outings have been a consistent combination of situational dominance and flirting with disaster.
Start #1 – 5/31/18 – At Minnesota
His MLB debut was an enthralling theater for about four innings. He weaved his way through the Twins lineup with relative ease, aided by a substantial cushion courtesy of the Indians offense. He looked virtually unhittable for moments until the fuel tank started to deplete. After the third inning, he lost a mile per hour on his fastball. For Bieber, this is not an inherently large concern, though, as he makes his living on location.
The more pressing matter at hand was a noticeable deviation from hitting his spots. While this is usually not so transparent, it is somewhat more detectable with guys who depend heavily on hitting their spots. There was a common theme with the contact he allowed in the rough fifth and sixth innings: they were all middle to middle-out on the plate and in the center of the y-axis of the strike zone. A dangerous spot to live, especially when your top velocity resides in the low to mid-nineties. Logan Morrison and Eduardo Escobar went yard off him in the sixth, capping off a rough outing. Bieber recorded 14 outs while allowing eight hits and walking one.
Start #2 – 6/17/18 – Vs Minnesota
The damage was recorded far less frequently the second time around against the Twins. Though he allowed 10 hits, Bieber was able to limit the damage to only one run while recording another 14 outs. The tight-rope act was in full effect, stranding 10 runners. Despite allowing more hits, Bieber did a better job of limiting dangerous contact. An average of 86 miles per hour off the bat in start number two versus 91 miles per hour in start number one.
The most encouraging offering was the slider, generating four whiffs and only three balls in play. He found a way to work around singles and doubles by getting those swings and misses at crucial times, none more important than the crucial sixth inning. With the Indians clinging to a 4-1 lead, Bieber allowed two hard-hit singles to Robbie Grossman and Max Kepler. With Oliver Perez warming, Terry Francona chose to see how the rookie managed to go to work. The next hitter was Mitch Garver, who took a front-row seat for the clinic on how to successfully change eye levels.
Bieber simply rotated between slider and fastball to perfection against Garver. The first two curveballs were sprinkled in as purpose pitches, not intended to be near the strike zone. The sixth and final pitch, a curveball in the zone, was the last thing Garver expected and sat him down with authority while keeping the runners at second and third.
The next batter, Ehire Adrianza, stood zero chance. He chased and fouled off a fastball out of the zone. Then he fought off a slider that was right down Broadway, which he clearly was not expecting. Finally, Bieber capped him off with a 93 mile per hour fastball that Adrianza just couldn’t track for a swinging strikeout. Oliver Perez came on and closed the door on Joe Mauer, allowing Bieber to escape the mess he created.
The first two starts have been mostly a mixed bag for Shane Bieber – an acceptable pitch mix and a few more swinging strikes than one may have expected. The concerning side is the climbing pitch counts and susceptibility to hard contact, but this was to be expected, and he should have less misfortune on the BABIP spectrum moving forward. At just 23 years old, Bieber will have to learn and adapt to MLB hitters which may take some time. With Carrasco indefinitely shelved, he should get an extended look. Indians fans will be required to be patient, to allow him to adjust. The command and plus secondary will lend themselves to success at the MLB level at some point – the level of success is to be determined.