Shane Bieber has gotten used to seeing his name behind some of the best starting pitchers to ever play the game as he’s gotten off to a historic start to the 2020 season. But this time, his name stands alone in some strikeout history.
On a particularly “off” night for Bieber, he tossed six scoreless frames, allowing just one hit with nine strikeouts. But he matched a career high with four walks in the Indians’ 2-1 loss to the Royals on Monday night at Kauffman Stadium. During the outing, Bieber completed his 50th inning of the season with 82 strikeouts, which according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is the most any pitcher has recorded through their first 50 innings of a season in MLB history.
“He competes and he doesn't get frustrated,” temporary Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “He knows himself better than anybody, so he knows how to get back on track. It's very difficult to be perfect every outing you go out there. But you find ways to compete. In the beginning, you might not have your slider, you might have a breaking ball or a fastball. You deal with what you've got then, and then hopefully later on the other pitches start showing up. That's what he does.”
He struck out two more before exiting the game, giving him 84 in 52 2/3 innings spanning eight starts. According to Elias, Bieber is the seventh pitcher -- and this is the 11th time -- since the mound was set to its current distance in 1893 that a pitcher has had at least 84 strikeouts in his first eight appearances of a season. The list is stacked with Hall of Famers:
Randy Johnson (2001): 92
Pedro Martinez (1999): 91
Curt Schilling (1998): 90
Randy Johnson (2000): 88
Pedro Martinez (2000): 88
Gerrit Cole (2018): 86
Bob Feller (1946): 85
Chris Sale (2017): 85
Pedro Martinez (2001): 84
Curt Schilling (2002): 84
Shane Bieber (2020): 84
Entering Monday, Bieber had recorded most of his strikeouts on his lethal curveball, but when the right-hander realized he didn’t have the same command over his best pitch, he showed exactly why he was named the ace of this rotation and found other ways to fan nine batters. He picked up one strikeout on the curve and relied heavily on his fastball and cutter, as the heater was responsible for six K’s and the cutter induced two.
“It was apparent from early on that their approach was kind of to make me throw pitches, not chase anything out of the zone,” Bieber said of the Royals’ offense. “They weren’t really swinging at breaking balls underneath the zone, and they were taking fastballs in the zone. … It was a little bit of a frustrating outing, but all and all, ended up making it work.”
The right-hander was replaced in the seventh inning with a 1-0 lead, but had to watch his chances improving to 7-0 slip away after an uncharacteristic off night for the Tribe’s bullpen, as James Karinchak was charged with two runs in one-third of an inning. The Indians had gone 16-0 in games in which they were leading through seven innings prior to Monday night, but Bieber was still able to watch his ERA drop to 1.20, which is the best in the Majors among qualified starters.
“I pride myself on being able to throw a lot of innings, and tonight’s outing had the potential of eight or nine and I didn’t have that consistency there from inning to inning,” Bieber said. “So I think breaking balls for strikes definitely would’ve helped, [but] then [I] also located my fastball better than normal.”