Bieber emotional ahead of surgery: 'I was falling back in love with pitching'

April 8th, 2024

CLEVELAND -- was speaking so casually. It almost seemed as if he was numb to the season-ending news he received just days ago. But after nearly 10 minutes of speaking, the emotion became palpable.

It was a simple question, “Do you think the work you put in at Driveline contributed to this?” He gave a thorough answer as to why he didn’t think the two were correlated. But as he got deeper and deeper into the details of his offseason journey, remembering how he overcame last year’s elbow troubles, regained the velocity that had been missing the past few seasons and was devastating hitters with his offspeed pitches, his voice started to crack.

“I was falling back in love with pitching,” Bieber said, holding back tears.

It’s been a frustrating road for Cleveland’s ace. Even though he’s figured out ways to be effective year after year, he’s had to reinvent himself each season to get those results. He was on top of the baseball world in 2020 when he won the AL Pitching Triple Crown en route to a Cy Young Award. Each year after that, he lost a little more velocity from his fastball. By 2023, he was no longer on the whiff or strikeout leaderboards. Bieber was becoming more hittable and he was desperate to find his way back to his old form. That’s when he decided to go to Driveline, the famed data-driven baseball training center.

“I feel like last year, not getting the results that I knew I was capable of, I would go out there the next day and I'd push and I'd try and find my shapes and I'd throw as hard as I could and trying to see the way the ball was coming out,” Bieber said. “And so I learned that maybe I was digging myself a bit of a hole.”

With this information and dissecting more of the minutiae of his mechanics, Bieber suddenly started seeing his metrics tick back up. He said the focus wasn’t on velocity and spin rate, but the two started to increase with the other work he was doing. All of this combined led to Bieber looking like … well, vintage Bieber. Even through the pain, he was lights out in his first two starts, tossing 12 scoreless innings with 20 strikeouts and just one walk. His velocity was back. His changeup was, as he described it, the best it had ever been. His curveball was inducing whiffs. This is what he had been chasing the last few years.

All for it to be taken away.

“I felt really, really good,” Bieber said. “Some things are in your control and some things are not.”

In the middle of Bieber’s Opening Day start in Oakland, he could start to feel some pain. He hoped that it was regular start-of-the-season achiness. He put extra care into his recovery before his next start. He knew what was on the line. It was either something that would go away or he would need surgery. He had to make his second start to know the answer. After 83 dominant pitches against the Mariners on April 2, Bieber exited the game in excruciating pain, knowing exactly what his future held.

“It was an emotional time,” Bieber said. “It is what it is and we move on and I'm happy to have answers and looking forward, happy to soon enough pitch uninhibited and continue to put up results.”

It’s a tough pill to swallow for any player, but it could be even more so for Bieber, who was dialing up his performance just in time to enter free agency this winter. But he’s not looking at it that way.

“It's a very real elephant in the room, so to speak,” Bieber said. “It's easy to keep things in perspective. Things could be a lot worse, I'll put it that way.”

It’s only been three days since Bieber made his decision. He still hasn’t fully digested that he’s going to be away from baseball for more time than he ever has before. He doesn’t know when his surgery will be, although he’s thinking it’ll be at the end of the week. Everything happened so quickly that it’ll take time for his emotions to fully be processed. But it was clear it started to sink in on Monday.

“This group's great and they're capable of so much with or without me,” Bieber said, trying not to get emotional. “I know I'll be a part of it, but just in a different capacity.”