Add some space in the Major League Baseball record books, because Shane Bieber needs some room to write his name beside yet another unprecedented achievement.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bieber became the first pitcher to record at least 10 strikeouts in each of his first four starts of a season since 1893 in the Indians’ 6-3 victory over the Reds at Great American Ball Park on Sunday. And even though he had 13 K’s in eight innings, Bieber said he had no idea he had that many when he walked off the mound.
“Today was one of those days where it kind of just happened,” Bieber said. “I guess once you feel that rhythm and get the momentum moving forward, good things are gonna happen and, you know, I guess that's where everything kind of started stacking up.”
But no Bieber start can end with just one mind-blowing stat. On Sunday, he also became the first pitcher in franchise history to record six consecutive double-digit-strikeout performances, dating back to Sept. 17, and the 25-year-old right-hander found a way to join some elite company. His baker’s dozen of K’s brought his total to 48, which ties Nolan Ryan (1978) for the most through the first four appearances of a season since at least 1906.
“It's really fun to sit there and watch, especially now playing center field getting to see his pitches move and where they're moving,” outfielder Jordan Luplow said. “It's impressive. I'm glad I'm not in the box.”
Cleveland was in desperate need of two things: a break for its bullpen and a win. And when those two items are on the to-do list, there’s no one better to be able to take the field than Bieber.
“That's why you call guys 'aces,'” manager Terry Francona said. “And he's certainly lived up to that. He's really accountable for what he needs to do. It's nice when you had a tough night last night and you wake up this morning and you see him running out to the bullpen. That makes you feel a little better.”
Since Bieber’s last outing, the Indians have been on the wrong side of a no-hitter, had two starters get knocked out of the game before making an out in the third inning, had a triple play turned against them and lost because of a ninth-inning error. So, Bieber was determined to right the ship, and he did exactly that by turning in his fourth quality start of the year, allowing three runs on six hits and two walks with 13 strikeouts in eight innings.
“Sometimes you really and truly do need to give the other team credit,” Reds manager David Bell said. “Today there is no question that [Bieber] deserves some credit. That was outstanding. He is pretty special.”
Bieber ended the seventh inning with 10 strikeouts on 89 pitches. After his last start in Chicago, when he threw 113 pitches in a stellar nine-inning effort, it seemed safe to assume that he’d catch a little bit of a breather by ending his day right then. Instead, Bieber trotted back out to the mound in the eighth, recorded three more strikeouts on another 15 pitches (with a solo shot by Tyler Naquin mixed in) and saved the overtaxed bullpen from working an extra frame.
“The guy's just a damned good pitcher,” Reds left fielder Jesse Winker said. “He did his thing."
Bieber had his entire arsenal working for him once again. But even though he threw 38 heaters, it wasn’t until the last two batters he faced in the eighth that he recorded strikeouts on the four-seamer, on the verge of marking his first start since Aug. 9 (when he had eight strikeouts) that none of his K’s came on a fastball. Instead, his breaking pitches did the heavy lifting, as his curveball induced a 63% whiff rate and his slider prompted a 56% whiff rate.
“It's always nice knowing he's on the mound, that's for sure,” Luplow said. “He gives us a good chance to win every day.”
Cleveland’s offense provided some run support for its ace, giving him a four-run lead, which helped him grind through an extra inning of work in the eighth. Backed by homers from Luplow, Roberto Pérez and José Ramírez and yet another strong start from Bieber, the Indians are ready to put their 3-4 road trip behind them.
“Just on this road trip alone, we've been punched in the mouth a little bit,” Bieber said. “So, happy with how we've bounced back, responded, and it was a tough-fought road trip. We’re gonna continue that momentum, especially from today.”