Bieber (shoulder) goes on injured list

June 15th, 2021

CLEVELAND -- The Indians have yet another hurdle to overcome regarding their rotation. But this one will be the most challenging.

Cleveland ace was placed on the 10-day injured list with a right shoulder subscapularis muscle strain, Indians manager Terry Francona announced prior to Monday’s 4-3 win over the Orioles. He’ll go without throwing for two weeks and then will be re-evaluated. In a corresponding move, the team recalled left-handed reliever Kyle Nelson from Triple-A Columbus.

“He didn’t want to go on the IL,” Francona said. "That’s the kind of teammate he is. We said, ‘We want you to have a long healthy career.’ And we don’t want him limping through it. That’s not fair to him.”

Bieber didn’t have his usual stuff in Sunday afternoon’s outing against the Mariners. His fastball velocity was down a tick and his curveball didn’t have the same spin that he’s been used to. He struggled through May, specifically with his curve and slider, but he had rebounded enough to post a 1.80 ERA in his previous three starts leading into Sunday. But when things didn’t quite feel right, he took it upon himself to reach out to the team’s medical staff after the game. That’s when the images revealed the strain.

“We're still obviously reaching out for more information and sending the images to different doctors and things like that,” Francona said, “trying to get the best information we can.”

Bieber knew he hadn’t felt 100% for at least a little bit of time, but it wasn’t until Sunday that he wanted some clarity. He was hoping that it was just the usual grind of a long season, but instead, he got worse news. He reported back to Progressive Field with his teammates on Monday and took a slow walk toward the outfield hours before first pitch. He sat down in the grass with backstop Roberto Pérez (also on the IL) and another teammate (who appeared to be Zach Plesac, who is also on the IL), chatting in the quiet ballpark.

“He’s never gone through anything before, so I think there’s some unknowns,” Francona said. “Everything you’ve ever heard me say about him, that’s who he is. And I have no doubt he will knock this out of the park.”

Cleveland had already lost Plesac to a thumb fracture, and it had two other holes in the rotation it was looking to fill after Triston McKenzie and Logan Allen didn’t work out in its Opening Day plans. Now, Aaron Civale is the last original starter standing, as the rest of the rotation will need to be pieced together over the next few weeks.

For now, J.C. Mejía and Cal Quantrill look like they’ll continue to start. From there, it gets more challenging. Sam Hentges, who’s pitched to a 7.86 ERA in 10 appearances (four starts) for the Indians this year, is currently in the bullpen, but he could be moved back into a starting role. At Triple-A, the team has Eli Morgan, who made just one big league start in horrible weather and was optioned back down on June 5. Cleveland could also attempt to turn to lefty Scott Moss, who dealt with some neck tightness at the end of Spring Training. Moss has made six starts for Columbus, but he has pitched to a 5.79 ERA with 19 strikeouts and nine walks in 14 innings.

Regardless of who’s going to pitch when they're called upon, there’s no hiding that the team’s starting depth has quickly been washed away.

“We’re going to talk to our guys later because we’re going to have to be flexible,” Francona said. “We’re going to have to be a little creative. Because I don’t think by doing it the normal way, we’ll be able to get through it. Again, realizing that we’re setting out to win, but we certainly don’t want to hurt anybody. It’s going to be challenging. We know that.”

Aside from Civale, this rotation will have little to no experience. Because of that, Francona wants to make sure he relays the message to hurlers like Mejía and other young arms to attempt to not put too much pressure on themselves to bite off more than they can chew.

“That’s certainly part of it, especially some of the younger guys, because not only are they not stretched out because that affects maybe our game plan,” Francona said. "But there’s some guys, we’re pretty young where they’re trying to show that they belong here and we may be asking them to be a little bit flexible also, trying to get through this next little bit pitching-wise. That’s part of it, for sure.”