CLEVELAND -- The ace of a pitching staff has, most of the time, the best stuff, and he is expected to have the most success. But another thing aces always seem to have is the ability to grind, which is exactly what Shane Bieber did on Tuesday night.
It wasn’t an easy night for Bieber. He had a lot of traffic on the basepaths, and gave up two runs on nine hits with eight strikeouts, three walks, one homer and one hit batter, but he found a way to get through 6 2/3 innings to help lead the Indians to a 3-2 victory over the Cubs at Progressive Field.
“I think it’s an opportunity to kind of, like, lead from the front, so to speak,” Bieber said. “My stuff hasn’t been exceptional like the beginning of the year right now, so to be able to go out there, and you got one goal in mind, and that’s to win. ... All of that truly has to do with my teammates and the offense, multiple guys in multiple dimensions picking me up. They continue to do that and give me the energy to go out there and continue to compete.”
Bieber danced around trouble in the second inning after giving up a run on Willson Contreras' RBI single by inducing a strikeout and a double play to escape a bases-loaded jam. The defense had his back again in the third, when Jake Bauers snagged a line drive at first base and doubled up Kris Bryant at second.
After Bieber threw 101 pitches through six grueling innings, it seemed probable that his night would be over. But Cleveland decided against getting an arm warm in the bullpen, leaving him as the only option to open the seventh. He gave up a leadoff single but was able to execute the strike-‘em-out, throw-‘em-out double play to quickly get back ahead. He was left in for one more batter, who singled, before James Karinchak was called on to record the final out of the frame.
“I thought [Bieber] made some mistakes,” manager Terry Francona said. “I also thought he threw some strikes maybe that weren't called that didn't help. That's part of the game. But you look up and he's [pitched 6 2/3 innings and allowed] two runs, and pitched pretty damn good. He competes like crazy. I don't think his slider's been the last couple of games what he's used to. Knowing Biebs, he'll go out in his bullpen and probably fix it.”
Bieber agreed that his slider hasn’t quite been the same as it was to start the season. He gave up two hits on his slider in four of his eight starts, including his last two trips to the mound. Although it may not seem like a lot, he only had one multihit effort against his slider last season. But he has still been able to find a positive in losing some of the feel for one of his most dominant pitches.
“To keep things in perspective, in years past with my old slider, when it kind of leaves me, it’s not competitive, and I would have to bag it,” Bieber said. “Although I’m not feeling great with it and not getting the kind of swings I want, it’s still usable, and it’s still a competitive pitch.”
The grit and grind that Bieber consistently brings to the mound is what makes him an ace. But could fatigue be the reason why his stuff isn’t quite as untouchable? He threw a career-high 121 pitches on Tuesday night, which Francona said isn’t going to be a common occurrence.
“Not every single outing, for sure,” Francona said. “We'll keep an eye on him. He's had an extra day the last two times. But we keep an eye on that stuff pretty close.”
Bieber has thrown fewer than 100 pitches in just one of his eight starts, and he has two outings with at least 119. But with extra rest before his last two starts and his focus on getting deeper into games, Bieber isn’t concerned about fatigue or the number of pitches he’s thrown, in typical ace fashion.
“I don’t really pay attention to pitch count,” Bieber said, “because at the end of the day, the most important thing is getting outs. That’s first and foremost.”