CLEVELAND -- When this season began and Shane Bieber was fitted for his uniform with Double-A Akron, the pitcher could not have predicted he would be in the position he is now with two weeks left in the regular season.Bieber was drenched in champagne on Saturday night, when the Indians
CLEVELAND -- When this season began and Shane Bieber was fitted for his uniform with Double-A Akron, the pitcher could not have predicted he would be in the position he is now with two weeks left in the regular season.
Bieber was drenched in champagne on Saturday night, when the Indians celebrated their third consecutive American League Central title at Progressive Field. In a 6-4 loss to the Tigers on Sunday afternoon, Bieber was not at his best, but the rookie right-hander has found a home in the Tribe's rotation and is very much in the mix for a spot on the playoff roster.
"I hoped for it. I could envision it," Bieber said of being with the Indians for this stretch run. "But, if you ask me if I expected it, I don't know that I can say that, because so many things have to line up."
In the midst of Saturday's party, bench coach Brad Mills posted the lineup for Sunday's finale against Detroit on one of the locker room's soaked walls. Cleveland's AL MVP candidates, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, were out of the lineup, along with regulars like Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnacion and more.
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Cleveland's post-clinch lineup looked more like one that might have been featured this season by Triple-A Columbus, where Bieber made eight starts this season after cruising against Double-A competition. The lone everyday player in the local nine was slugger Josh Donaldson, who is returning from injury and still building his endurance back up.
The Indians managed three runs in the seven innings logged by lefty Francisco Liriano, who allowed an RBI single apiece to Yandy Diaz and rookie catcher Eric Haase. Cleveland carried a 3-1 lead into the fifth inning, but Bieber was unable to keep Detroit's lineup down.
"I thought he was up [in the zone] today more than he's been, even with his breaking ball," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He ended up paying for it. There's nothing that he did today [that changes our opinion of him]. I mean, we love this kid. He's going to be a good one."
In the fifth, the Tigers struck for four runs on five hits, including a three-run home run to left field by Jim Adduci. Overall, Bieber was charged with five runs on nine hits in six innings, in which he struck out four and walked none.
"Maybe [there was] a little bit of fatigue," Bieber said. "But, that's no reason I should be missing spots. I just need to focus a little bit more. You may get away with more mistakes earlier in the game than later in the game. They're definitely going to punish you the second or third time they've seen you. I just need to be sharper."
Adam Rosales added an RBI single in the ninth for Cleveland to make things interesting, but the Tribe could not complete the comeback.
On the season, Bieber has gone 10-4 with a 4.50 ERA in his first exposure to the big leagues, piling up 108 strikeouts against 19 walks in 104 innings along the way. There have been bumps in the road, but the 23-year-old righty has shown his potential both through his poise and precision-based approach.
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Between Double-A and Triple-A earlier this year, Bieber posted a 1.47 ERA with 77 strikeouts against seven walks in 79 2/3 innings. His 5.68 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the Majors currently ranks eighth in baseball (min. 70 innings). On that list, Bieber is sandwiched between Carlos Carrasco (5.72) and Max Scherzer (5.65).
"A lot of things have to line up for guys to move up levels," Bieber said. "I've been extremely fortunate with my path and how it's gone. But, I think I've taken advantage of the opportunities that I've gotten. I'm really just trying to enjoy it right now, because it's not very common. It doesn't happen very often."
Come October, the Indians will have to weigh whether Bieber will fit on the postseason roster as a starter, or as a multi-inning reliever.
"I'm not sure what role it will be in," Bieber said. "But, I'm really excited for the opportunity to keep competing and trying to impact this team in a positive way."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Haase party: The reserve-filled lineup allowed Haase to get a rare start behind the plate for the Tribe, paving the way for his first career hit. Go figure that it would come against the Tigers. Haase, who was born in Detroit and was "Mr. Baseball" for the state of Michigan for Divine Child High School in 2011, came through with a go-ahead RBI single in the fourth inning, giving the Tribe a 2-1 lead at the time.
"On a day where we're letting the guys who have grinded take a deep breath," Francona said, "watching him catch a full game, get his first hit, first RBI, that's really exciting. He's worked so hard behind the plate. His throwing and his transfer is so much better than we even saw in Spring Training. That was really fun."
Miller Time: Indians relief ace Andrew Miller checked another item off his comeback to-do list on Sunday, working parts of two innings against the Tigers. The lefty induced three straight groundouts on nine pitches in the seventh and was sent back out for the eighth. Miller created a flyout against Adduci, but then exited after giving up a solo shot to left to Michael Mahtook.
"Like you hope, keep taking steps in the right direction," Francona said. "It was his best velocity that we've seen [93.8 mph average on his four-seamer and 95.5 mph max, per Statcast™]. Breaking ball continues to be good. He got in a 3-2 count and got one up too much. That's still another good step in the right direction."
Haase became the first Indians player to drive in a go-ahead run with his first career hit since Jason Kipnis delivered a walk-off single against the Angels on July 25, 2011.
HE SAID IT
"It was awesome. Nobody deserves it more than that guy. He's had a trying run to get here. He really deserves it. Nobody works as hard as he does. He does a good job and comes in every day and has a positive attitude and works his tail off. I'm really happy for him." -- Bieber, on Haase getting his first career hit
"It's good to get that one out of the way and hopefully move forward at this point and put up some good numbers." -- Haase, whose wife, kids and in-laws were in attendance
Following Monday's team off-day, Indians ace Corey Kluber (18-7, 2.91 ERA) is slated to take the ball in the opener of a three-game set with the White Sox at 7:10 p.m. ET. Kluber will be working on seven days of rest, helping set his schedule up for the postseason. The righty is 8-4 with a 4.02 ERA in 14 starts at Progressive Field this year. Chicago will counter with lefty Carlos Rodon (6-5, 3.10).
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.