Notes: Bieber's final go; pitching verdicts

July 20th, 2020

CLEVELAND -- Shane Bieber’s final tuneup before his first Opening Day start may not have gone according to plan, but it was enough to prove he’s ready for the regular season to get underway.

Because of thunderstorms that had just rolled through Cleveland, the Indians had to make a last-minute decision to scrap their intrasquad scrimmage plans and play out four simulated innings without fielders to allow Bieber to get some work in on his scheduled start day. In those four frames, he allowed one run on four hits with nine strikeouts.

“I kept the pitch count down a little bit,” Bieber said. “We were probably around 70-75 [pitches] as opposed to the last two outings were around 90-95 just to be a little fresher going into five days from now. But yeah, throwing everything with the same intensity as normal and just getting ready for that next one.”

If the rain would’ve continued past 7 p.m. ET, Bieber would’ve had to simulate a few innings in the cages with hitters just standing in the box not taking swings. But in his final start before regular-season games begin on Friday, he was pleased that he could at least get a game-like feel, even if there was no defense behind him.

“It changes kind of the whole intensity of everything,” Bieber said of pitching in the cage. “So it was nice to be able to get out on the diamond and see some swings and the ball off the bat and read hitters that way. It was definitely a lot more game-like. So I’m thankful the rain held off a little bit for us to be able to do that.”

His one mistake came on a heater to Franmil Reyes, who launched the ball to the steps leading up to Heritage Park in center field. Reyes had rearranged the batting order in the dugout the inning prior to make sure he got to face Bieber, who’s been tough on him this summer, one more time. As he ran down the first-base line, he yelled out to the mound to make sure Bieber knew who won the final matchup. All Bieber could do was shrug his shoulders and crack a slight smile.

“I blocked it all out. I’m repressing that,” Bieber said with a chuckle. “I call that Franmil’s Revenge Tour 2020, because the last time I faced him I got him a couple times. … I had a bad feeling with that heater up, because I got him a couple times on it last time, but he got me this time.”

Summer Camp starts are officially over for Bieber. Next step: Opening Day.

“I feel really, really good,” Bieber said. “I was able to put in some good work over quarantine and came here ready to rock. … I feel like as a team, we’re definitely ready to rock. And on a personal level, yeah, I’m stoked for Opening Day. I’m ready to go.”

What to do with the bullpen
There’s Brad Hand, Nick Wittgren, Adam Cimber, Oliver Pérez and, most likely, James Karinchak. From there, the team still has Cam Hill, James Hoyt, Dominic Leone, Phil Maton and Hunter Wood as options for the bullpen. Assuming the team carries 15 total pitchers (six starters), one of the relievers would not be breaking camp with the Tribe at the end of the week.

Leone is an arm that’s flown under the radar since the start of Spring Training. The right-hander was signed to a Minor League deal in January after spending the last two seasons with St. Louis. In 40 appearances last year, Leone pitched to a 5.53 ERA with 46 strikeouts and 22 walks in 40 2/3 innings, but has made a convincing case over the last two weeks to be carried on the Tribe’s Opening Day roster.

“Maybe a little more fastball than we maybe expected,” manager Terry Francona said. “A lot of life to his fastball. A good breaking ball. Really interesting guy. Because he's got Major League experience and he [seems] kind of unflappable. Even [Saturday], when he got into a bind, he made pitches after he got into that bind. There's been a lot to like.”

Five or six?
Francona has been debating whether to open the year with a five- or six-man rotation throughout Summer Camp. The Indians have Bieber, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco locked in the top three spots, with Aaron Civale, Zach Plesac and Adam Plutko as options to round out the staff. With a six-man rotation, there’s no need to make any decisions just yet. But if they opt to go with a five-man rotation, which would get the ball in Bieber’s hands more often, it’s likely they’ll be choosing between Plutko and Plesac. Whoever doesn’t get plugged into the rotation would probably go to the ‘pen. Francona said he’s expecting to choose the number of starters they’ll have in their rotation on Monday.