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Bieber set to be Indians' Opening Day starter

At 24, he will become club's youngest to receive nod since CC Sabathia
@MandyBell02
March 6, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- One year ago, Shane Bieber was in his first big league Spring Training camp, trying to prove that he deserved that fifth spot in the Indians’ rotation. Now, he’s set to become the club’s youngest Opening Day starter since 23-year-old CC Sabathia in 2004.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- One year ago, Shane Bieber was in his first big league Spring Training camp, trying to prove that he deserved that fifth spot in the Indians’ rotation. Now, he’s set to become the club’s youngest Opening Day starter since 23-year-old CC Sabathia in 2004.

The 24-year-old walked off the mound after his third Cactus League start in the Indians’ 7-6 loss to the A’s on Friday with no knowledge of whether he’d take the mound at Progressive Field on March 26 against the Tigers. Indians manager Terry Francona is always hesitant to name his Opening Day starters so early because he wouldn’t want to have to make a new announcement if an injury popped up. But when he was asked after the game if he had made up his mind, he realized that Bieber seemed to be the obvious answer.

“I think it kind of makes sense,” Francona said. “Everybody sees it coming. But I guess maybe I’ll say something to him in the morning now because of this. Or I’ll text him later or something.”

Francona then hustled off the field with a big belly laugh to go grab his phone to give Bieber the news. The right-hander had just tossed his third consecutive scoreless outing, allowing two hits (the first he’s allowed this spring) and striking out seven in four frames. He had mentioned after he left the game that Francona hadn’t yet talked to him about the Opening Day starter situation, but he did express what it would mean to him if he was given the opportunity.

“It would mean a lot,” Bieber said. “Obviously we have a bunch of guys that are able to do that and do an extremely good job. It’s just the opportunity to get the team off on the right foot and hit the ground running. It’s extremely important to go out there and set the tone, so I’d definitely enjoy that and embrace it.”

Since 2015, the Indians have had little to debate when it came to choosing who would toe the rubber for the first game of the year. That title belonged to Corey Kluber for five consecutive seasons, but it was up for grabs heading into camp after the Tribe traded the two-time American League Cy Young Award winner to the Rangers in December.

Then, after Mike Clevinger partially tore the meniscus in his left knee and Carlos Carrasco got a late spring start due to a mild hip flexor strain, Bieber became even more of an obvious choice. And that’s certainly not to say the righty wouldn’t have earned the title if the entire rotation stayed healthy during the six-week stay in Arizona. His impressive 2019 season, which placed him fourth in the American League Cy Young Award voting, and his hot spring have certainly been hard to ignore.

In three spring starts, Bieber has allowed two hits and no runs with nine strikeouts and one walk in 7 2/3 frames.

“A lot of work, a lot of development [went] into the offseason,” Bieber said, “[Now] it’s just a matter of keeping it going. Things are feeling good.”

While Bieber may have been more unsure about his role with the Indians at this time last year -- even though the club knew just how much he meant to them -- that’s the only difference between his first two Major League camps. Despite pitching to a 3.28 ERA with three complete games, two shutouts and 259 strikeouts in 214 1/3 innings, to go along with his All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award in a stellar sophomore campaign, Bieber said there is no difference in his mindset between last spring and now.

“I still have a lot to prove,” Bieber said. “I need to go out there and pitch with all the intensity that I need. Each outing is an opportunity to see how much stuff is playing and continue to work on things. Every outing matters.”

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.