Believe in Bieber: Tribe ace making history

August 16th, 2020

Another day, another opportunity for to pencil his name beside some of the greatest pitchers in Major League history.

Bieber recorded 11 strikeouts over his seven innings during the Indians' 3-1 win over the Tigers on Saturday night at Comerica Park. The number brought his season total to 54 K’s, tying him with Nolan Ryan (1973) and Pedro Martinez (2001) for the third most through the first five starts of a season since 1906. He is behind just Ryan (59, '78) and Randy Johnson (55, '99).

The victory marked Cleveland's 19th in a row over Detroit, dating back to 2019.

“We're getting accustomed to him being an ace of a pitcher,” Indians third baseman José Ramírez said. “So we're really happy that he’s actually doing what he's doing right now.”

The Tribe’s 25-year-old ace has yet to record fewer than eight strikeouts in an outing this season, and he’s logged more double-digit strikeout games (three) than any other starter in the Majors.

Though Bieber had his title of Major League strikeout leader taken from him for all of 24 hours when Reds righty Sonny Gray picked up his 45th strikeout in his fifth start of the year on Friday night, Bieber shot back to the top of the leaderboard with his impressive 54 strikeouts through Saturday.

"He throws strikes,” Tigers second baseman Jonathan Schoop said. “He throws pitches that look like strikes and go ball, too. It's a tough at-bat against him. You just try to grind him and score runs. Today, you just have to take your cap off for him."

When Bieber was breaking into the Majors in 2018, he was not known to be a strike-thrower. But he’s OK with the new role he’s taken on.

“It’s great with me,” Bieber said. “As long as I’m still a strike-thrower and a strikeout guy, I think that’s the best of both worlds. But I’m just gonna continue to be me. There’s a lot of things that I know I could get better at and continue to work on throughout the season, and we’ll see where it goes.”

Bieber’s first strikeout victim was Christin Stewart in the second inning, which began a stretch during which the righty fanned nine of 10 batters. He induced 23 whiffs -- the third most in an outing of his career -- on 48 swings, a whiff rate of 48 percent. His seven scoreless frames dropped his season ERA to 1.30.

“I mean, a night like this, he can execute almost every pitch,” Tribe catcher said. “Breaking ball, he threw really good changeups, too, late in the count, fastball late in the count, bounce the breaking ball late in the count with two strikes against those guys. I mean, it’s fun. ... You can call the game, but if a guy isn’t executing pitches, there’s nothing we can do. I give 100 percent [of the credit] to Bieber.”

Of Bieber’s 11 strikeouts, six came via the curveball, three were on the slider and two were induced from the heater.

"He was absolutely dominating,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He's got an assortment of pitches and changes speed really well. He's got a little bit of a hiccup in his windup where all of a sudden, the ball just jumps out of nowhere. He's a really good pitcher. We knew that coming in. You watch video of him and you see how much his ball moves. He was really good. That's why he's ranked right up there at the top."

After the tough week the Tribe had with optioning and to Lake County after they violated team protocols, the Indians were hoping that the series in Detroit would get them back on track. So far, so good.

“Yeah, these last two games,” Bieber said, “obviously there’s a lot going on, but I feel like you’ve seen from us and the entire organization and team that we’re focused, we’re ready to move forward and that’s kind of what we’re doing.”