He won the American League Cy Young Award and the MLB Pitching Triple Crown. Shane Bieber was nearly perfect in 2020 until an uncharacteristically rocky outing in the AL Wild Card Series against the Yankees left a bad taste in his mouth.
“I think one silver lining is, the playoffs working out the way they did last year, I still have a lot to prove and a lot to work on and a lot to strive for,” Bieber said.
The 25-year-old right-hander is grateful for the year he had last season, but that didn’t stop him from focusing on where he could’ve been better. With that, he took it upon himself to spend nearly the entire offseason at the Tribe’s Spring Training complex in Goodyear, Ariz., working out every other day to better his craft.
“I still consider it very early in my career,” Bieber said. There’s a lot to improve on, a lot to build off of.”
While he was working, the Indians were making moves, including trading away another top-tier hurler and a player who’s served as the face of the franchise over the last few seasons. With Bieber taking over the role as the Tribe’s ace and quickly making a convincing case to now be the face of the team, did the blockbuster trade with the Mets cause him to ponder about his own future?
“The truthful answer is when that happened, no,” Bieber said, “I wasn’t really thinking about myself as much as I was thinking about those two guys specifically as well as what the roster is going to look like this year and in Spring Training.”
But that brings up the question everyone is wondering: What is his future in Cleveland? The payroll trimming over the offseason sparked questions of whether those savings could be reinvested into locking Bieber up long-term. But Bieber said those conversations haven’t started with the Indians’ front office just yet.
“Everybody is kind of on the same page, you know one step at a time,” Bieber said. “In terms of conversations, it really hasn’t happened yet, so that’s something I’d love to dive into and hopefully that will be reciprocated as well.”
Bieber has certainly proved that he’s a player worth investing in. He’s climbed his way from opening the 2019 season in the Indians bullpen until the team needed a fifth starter to becoming the Tribe’s ace and AL Cy Young Award winner in 2020. Although he’s young, he’s demonstrated the ability to be a leader in the clubhouse and has carried himself well on and off the field.
So, after he established himself as one of the best hurlers in the game in 2020, what was left for him to improve upon?
“Being able to get back to what was originally my bread and butter when I first came up, which was my slider,” Bieber said. “I love my curveball, and I don’t want to steer away from it, but having another breaking pitch that’s doing something else and giving hitters a different look will be big for me. That, along with a couple of mechanical — not necessarily changes, but just cleaning up things, I feel like is pushing me in the right direction.”
“Your ERA can only go so low," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It’s not like a golfer where you can go to the plus side and you’re a scratch. But I mean I do think as he learns the league and learns himself, you will see improvements because he’s that kind of kid. He’s conscientious and smart, and he has the drive to want to be great. So I think you’ll see some things he’ll improve on this year for sure.”
He grinded in the offseason with a handful of younger players in the organization at the Tribe’s Spring Training facility until he tested positive for COVID-19 on Feb. 8. But because he had such mild symptoms, he was able to continue working out at home.
“I was able to pick up a net and set aside the right amount of space in the backyard with a big old bag of balls and had some painter’s tape set up 60 feet away,” Bieber said. “I didn’t have a mound or a slope to throw off of, but at least could keep the arm going and get some garage workouts all while following protocol and just trying to stay as ready as possible for when I was able to get back in, which was a couple days ago.”
Just a few years ago, Bieber was the young prospect soaking in every second he could around pitchers like Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. And although he’s quickly become one every young hurler is excited to watch, he said he hasn’t thought of it that way.
“I don’t think that’s something that goes through my head, but it’s a pretty cool thing,” Bieber said. “I’m just going to continue to be myself and try to be the best example I can be for whoever may be watching. You’re not on the mound looking back like that one picture of me and others watching Kluber, so it’s not like I’m on the mound looking at who is watching. But it’s a pretty cool thought. I’m just trying to set as best of an example as I can both with my words and my actions.”