'We feel for Shane': Bieber bracing for elbow surgery

Guardians ace placed on 15-day IL after racking up 20 K's over 12 combined innings in '24

April 6th, 2024

MINNEAPOLIS -- For the second consecutive year, the Guardians are going to lose for a significant amount of time due to elbow trouble. This time, surgery is required.

On Saturday, the Guardians announced that Bieber will need to get surgery to reconstruct his ulnar collateral ligament. The team is working with Dr. Keith Meister in Dallas to figure out a time for the procedure.

Cleveland placed Bieber on the 15-day injured list, retroactive to April 3, and recalled right-hander Peter Strzelecki from Triple-A Columbus.

“First and foremost, we feel for Shane,” Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “There’s a lot of things that he’s got to process right now and work through on the mental side because of just how set he is on wanting to pitch and contribute to the team. And not being able to do that has really impacted him.”

There are so many questions that arise from this situation. Let’s break it down.

When did this happen?

After Bieber’s Opening Day start in Oakland, he experienced more soreness in his recovery than usual. The Guardians went through options with him of what they could do to help. He could’ve pushed his start back a day and gotten extra treatment. But at that point, Bieber wanted to see if he could push through this, considering he hadn’t felt any pain in Spring Training.

When he toed the rubber again in Seattle, it persisted.

That led the team to order some additional tests and scans, which revealed the injury to the same ligament he had problems with last year. After getting second opinions from Dr. Meister and Dr. Neal ElAttrache, surgery was determined to be the best route moving forward.

“The amount of work that this guy’s put in over the last few years, the things that he’s pitched through, that’s a testament to who he is,” manager Stephen Vogt said. “The amount of empathy and pain that I feel with Shane, for Shane, that’s really what speaks the loudest right now.”

You wouldn’t have known that Bieber was dealing with any pain. The right-hander dominated in his first two outings, racking up 20 strikeouts over 12 combined innings. His velocity was trending in the right direction.

Bieber’s changeup and curveball were the best they’ve been in years. He was starting to look like the 2020 American League Cy Young version of himself. Instead, he has no idea what his future holds.

Who takes Bieber’s spot in the rotation?

Gavin Williams is still weeks away from his return. Hunter Gaddis is locked in as a relief option. Tyler Beede is Cleveland’s long-relief option and could move to the rotation, but his pitch count won’t be high right out of the gate. No. 11 prospect Joey Cantillo is out for the next two months with a hamstring strain.

The hope for the Guardians is that Ben Lively and Xzavion Curry can hustle through their rehab assignments. They got a late start to the season after each being sidelined for two weeks in Spring Training with a respiratory virus. They’ve each made a rehab start in Triple-A Columbus and looked strong.

Curry allowed one hit in 2 2/3 innings with seven strikeouts. Lively gave up one hit in three innings with three strikeouts. But like Beede, neither are fully stretched out as starters just yet. Depending on when the Guardians call up a fifth starter, they may need to have guys piggyback off of each other until they’re at full strength.

What does this mean for Bieber’s future?

This is a tricky situation for any pitcher, but even more so for Bieber, who is in his final year with the Guardians. If he would’ve remained as stellar as he was in the first two starts, he could’ve been a trade candidate come July.

If Cleveland stayed in contention, he could’ve been the leader of this staff to another fun run like the group had in 2022. But most importantly, he was trying to pad his résumé as he entered free agency. Instead, he faces a long road back to the mound.

Maybe this means Bieber remaining in Cleveland beyond ‘24 is more attainable. If other clubs aren’t willing to take a chance on a guy coming back from Tommy John surgery, the club could be able to ink Bieber to a cheaper deal than they would’ve entering the season.

Maybe this is going to be an underwhelming ending to Bieber’s incredible stint in Cleveland. Maybe teams on the fringe of taking that next big step into contention will be willing to go after Bieber regardless of his injury history. All he can do now is wait and see.