Bieber's 4th straight Opening Day nod 'probably a given'

March 5th, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- As if there was any doubt, is slated to be on the rubber on Opening Day.

Guardians manager Terry Francona said after Saturday’s 4-4 tie with the A’s at Hohokam Stadium that the 27-year-old is on pace to make his fourth consecutive Opening Day start.

“I think that’s probably a given that he’s working towards that,” Francona said. “He knows that, but we kind of reserve the right [to change things], one, if weather ever got in the way or something else.”

Should he indeed take the ball on March 30 in Seattle, Bieber’s four straight Opening Day starts would be just one shy of tying the longest such streak by a pitcher in Cleveland history, which is held by Corey Kluber (2015-19) and Stan Coveleski (1917-21). After Kluber was traded at the end of the ’19 season to the Rangers, Bieber began his reign as Opening Day starter in ’20 at age 25, becoming the youngest to do so for Cleveland since a 23-year-old CC Sabathia in 2004.

"Whether there's a flyover or not, it's hard not to get emotional [pitching on Opening Day]," Bieber said. "For me, every time, I do look forward to it because I do get emotional. It just hits harder. ... No matter what, it's not something I'll ever take for granted."

After the way Bieber pitched on Saturday, there was no better time to clarify what everyone was already assuming. The Guardians’ ace cruised through three scoreless innings at a rapid pace, giving up just one hit with two strikeouts.

“He looks more like himself,” Francona said. “He just knows what he’s doing. I thought he was crisp.”

It took Bieber some time to fully look like himself last season. He was coming back from a year full of rehab in ’21 after a shoulder injury, battled decreased velocity and yet still found ways to be extremely successful, pitching to a 2.88 ERA in 200 innings with 198 strikeouts and 36 walks. He was a rock for Cleveland in the postseason, proving himself to be the ace of the staff once again.

“He’s such a perfectionist, but it was probably later in the year [when] he was really feeling where he wasn’t thinking through things,” Francona said. “He’s never gonna make an excuse, but there was a lot going on there.”

Now, Bieber can put that all behind him. His velocity has already been up from what it was last spring in just two Cactus League starts. Between those outings, he’s given up just one hit and one walk in five scoreless frames. The pitch timer hasn’t rattled him (considering he worked quickly to begin with) and he’s raved about his quick connection with new backstop Mike Zunino in just a short time of working together.

And, it's worth pointing out, his history of pitching on Opening Day has been nothing but positive:

2020: Six innings, four hits, zero earned runs, one walk, 14 strikeouts against the Royals after the delayed start to the season
2021: Six innings, five hits, three earned runs, three walks, 12 strikeouts in snow against the Tigers
2022: 4 2/3 innings (after a shortened spring), two hits, zero earned runs, four strikeouts against the Royals

If Bieber’s back on the right track going into ‘23, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic this trend will continue.