Bieber joins elites on OD; Tribe O falls short

April 1st, 2021

DETROIT -- Most people couldn’t even begin to fathom what it would feel like to be one of just four to accomplish an extraordinary feat. But for , these concepts continue to be his reality.

In 2020, Bieber fanned 14 batters on Opening Day. This year, he struck out 12 on Opening Day during the Tribe’s 3-2 loss against the Tigers at Comerica Park on Thursday afternoon, making him just one of four hurlers -- joining Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson and Randy Johnson -- to record at least 12 strikeouts in multiple Opening Day starts.

“It was pretty typical Bieber,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “A lot of strikeouts, really sharp. Threw some really good breaking balls. I thought he looked a lot like Bieber.”

But there was one tremendous difference between Opening Day in 2020 and '21: the weather. On July 24, 2020, Bieber toed the rubber on a sunny, 79-degree day. This time, Bieber battled through snow, 15 mph winds and a game-time temperature of 32 degrees.

Unlike his six shutout frames on Opening Day 2020, Bieber permitted three runs on five hits this time around, including a two-run homer to Miguel Cabrera, while battling short bursts of intense snow that nearly resembled blizzard-like conditions.

“Shoot. The home run, I never even saw the ball,” Francona said. “It was getting to the point where the umpires were kind of trying to figure out do we keep going or not.”

The visibility was definitely less than 349 feet, considering Cabrera couldn’t even see if his home run went over the fence, prompting him to slide into second base. And Bieber admitted it was even difficult to see home plate.

“It was a little fuzzy, man, to be honest,” Bieber said. “I was asking the outfielders after the inning. They came back in and they were saying they couldn’t see a thing.”

The biggest challenge Bieber faced until the snow stopped and he found his groove was fastball command. More than 55 percent of Bieber’s four-seamers were high and out of the zone after never having done that more than 50 percent in a game last season.

"You gotta get him early if you can get him at all,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “He's not an easy assignment on a good weather day, bad weather day, Spring Training, season, postseason. He's a very, very good pitcher. We were able to get to his fastball early.”

As the weather settled down, so did Bieber, and the Tribe’s ace continued to roll through the final four innings, allowing just one hit and no runs in that span. His fastball velocity sat 1.9 mph lower than it averaged in 2020 (94.1), but the temperatures that at times dropped below freezing could be held responsible for that.

“I think maybe it has to do something with the weather because those couple innings, it was cold out there,” Indians backstop said. “He’s our ace, and you could see he was battling, and he gave us a chance to win the game.”

The weather couldn't take all of the blame for the Tribe's icy bats.

Just like in 2020, the Indians' offense failed to lift up its ace. Bieber’s run-support average last season was 3.7 in games he started, eighth lowest among all qualified starters. On Thursday, Cleveland was shut out through the first eight frames before Pérez launched a two-run homer in the top of the ninth. A team that tied for the sixth-fewest runs scored in 2020 is looking to prove that this season will be much different.

“You want to win, but I'm glad we fought back,” Francona said. “Shoot, we get a chance. We had the tying run on base. We'll win some of those games.”