DETROIT -- Could the Cleveland Pitching Factory be back?
The Guardians have spent the better part of this season in a situation opposite the one they’re used to: Relying on offense while their starting pitching was inconsistent. But now that Cleveland has turned in three straight impressive starts, capped by seven scoreless innings from Shane Bieber in the Guardians’ 5-2 victory over the Tigers on Tuesday night at Comerica Park, the momentum might be turning back in the rotation’s favor.
“[Bieber] kind of mentioned to [pitching coach] Carl [Willis] he was a little frustrated with finding his release point,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “If that’s frustration, I hope he’s frustrated a lot. I thought he was really good.”
Cleveland's pitching has been dominant in recent memory -- so much so that Logan Allen once dubbed the organization “The Cleveland Pitching Factory.” Heading into the season, it seemed as though the Guardians' rotation was again poised to be a strength, but pitchers like Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale and, most surprisingly, Bieber struggled to find their footing early in the year and never got into consistent rhythms.
Now, the Guardians are hoping those woes are behind them. And the starting pitching couldn’t be coming alive at a better time.
Cleveland entered the day just one game back of the first-place Twins in the American League Central, but it moved into a tie for first with the win and Minnesota's 10-3 loss at Dodger Stadium. And with two games left in the series against the Tigers, who now sit 25 games under .500, the Guardians have a chance to make a move in the standings as the Twins play one more game against the red-hot Dodgers. After Bieber’s seven scoreless frames in the series opener, Cleveland has not only set the tone for the series, but the club has given every indication that the rotation is finally settling in.
"That's a tough task tonight, especially when Bieber's locating pitches the way he was,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “That's a little bit pro-Bieber, a little bit of frustration on our end, but that's kind of the nature of the game, especially when you face these guys. Their pitching is in attack mode. They live through their starters. They've got a strong 'pen, and a lot of it is because they can utilize them when they have to late in games and they're fresh. It's a good pitching staff.”
Cal Quantrill cruised through six scoreless frames on Saturday against the Astros. Triston McKenzie topped him with eight scoreless innings on Sunday. Bieber added his seven scoreless frames with just four hits, eight strikeouts and one walk on Tuesday. It marked the first time Cleveland received at least six scoreless innings from its starters in three consecutive games since Aug. 25-27, 2017, when Ryan Merritt, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco accomplished the feat.
“It’s really nice to feel that, because if they put the zeroes on the board, it’s going to be a lot easier for us to get the runs in,” Guardians outfielder Oscar Gonzalez said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “And most importantly because it’ll enable us to win.”
While the Guardians were able to manage without Civale during his stint on the IL, with two starts from Bryan Shaw before Hunter Gaddis struggled against the Astros, the starters are gaining steam just as the rotation is getting back to full strength. Civale will make his first start since tossing one inning on July 13 before getting pulled due to right wrist discomfort.
Civale has been far from the hurler fans saw at the beginning of last season prior to his right middle finger sprain, when he led the Majors in wins, but he’s still the best option for the Guardians compared to the alternatives they had over the last few weeks. And if their strong pitching proves contagious, Civale could be getting back into the mix at the perfect time to find his form.
And if this momentum continues, the Cleveland Pitching Factory -- paired with the team’s top four hitters all batting over .280 -- could be a recipe for success in the last two months of the regular season.
“Just going to take it, move on to the next one, keep it rolling and kind of pass the torch,” Bieber said. “I think we all know what we can do as a clubhouse, as a team, especially when we’re playing aggressive on the mound, in the box, on the basepaths. So we want to put the pressure on the opponent.”