Shane Bieber Holds Twins in Check in First MLB Start

The future of the Cleveland Indians, or part of it at least, arrived on Thursday night. Shane Bieber, one of the Indians five best minor league prospects according to many outlets, finally made his MLB debut. As the Tribe’s second best pitching prospect behind Tristan McKenzie, there was much excitement surrounding Bieber’s debut. Needless to say, he did not disappoint.

Shane Bieber was everything he was advertised to be on Thursday night and if he was nervous, it sure didn’t show. In 5.2 innings of work, he demonstrated the pin point control prospect junkies have been raving about. Against the Twins, he pitched from ahead consistently. He threw first pitch strikes to 13 batters and went ahead 0-2 to five others.  Of the 24 batters faced, Bieber walked only one. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that in 262.2 minor league innings Bieber has only walked 15 batters, two of which were intentional.

The Indians offense also helped Bieber. He was staked to a 3-0 lead before ever throwing a pitch and worked the latter half of his start with an 8-0 lead. It doesn’t matter if you’re Corey Kluber, Shane Bieber, or any other pitcher in between. If you get to work with a lead, it makes things significantly easier. You can be more aggressive without worrying about mistakes. If you do make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. This likely helped suppress any nerves that may have been present and brought out the best in Bieber in his first big league start.

Shane Bieber was cool, confident and relaxed.

In addition to his pin point control, Bieber also demonstrated some strikeout ability as well. Bieber sat down six Twins hitters utilizing a combination of fastballs, sliders, and curves.

Shane Bieber
Shane Bieber’s first MLB strikeout – Brian Dozier – Fastball
Shane Bieber
Miguel Sano – Slider
Shane Bieber
Robbie Grossman – Fastball
Shane Bieber
Brian Dozier – Slider
Shane Bieber
Logan Morrison – Curveball
Shane Bieber
Eddie Rosario – Fastball

However, while Bieber impressed early and often, that’s not to say there weren’t some bumps in the road late. In his final 1.1 innings of work, Bieber surrendered four runs. The explanation for this is pretty simple. Bieber began working from behind more often than he had earlier in the game. Additionally, the Twins began making adjustments at the plate as the lineup turned over for the second and third time. On top of that, Bieber’s pitches stopped painting the corners and outside edges of the strike zone and began leaking over the middle of the plate.

These mistakes, if you want to call them that, were on full display during the Twins 2-run fifth inning. A lead-off double and Bieber’s lone walk of the night opened the door for the Twins to climb back in the game. Back to back hard hit balls up the middle plated two runs for the Twins before Bieber was saved by an inning ending double play. And while the following inning began promisingly enough with a three pitch strikeout of Eddie Rosario, Bieber allowed back-to-back jacks to Logan Morrison and Eduardo Escobar on back-to-back pitches.

Shane Bieber
Morrison Home Run
Shane Bieber
Eduardo Escobar Home Run

As you can see above, Bieber missed his spot badly on a 2-0 pitch to Morrison. Instead of jamming him with a fastball inside, it leaked back over the plate and right into Morrison’s nitro zone. On the next pitch, Bieber hung a change-up belt high in the middle of the plate. Rosario took full advantage and deposited it into the flower planter above the right field wall. Bieber was immediately pulled from the game. And while it was not the best of endings for the rookie, the final two batters of the night can not take away from what Bieber did up until that point.

So what is the future for Shane Bieber?

That’s a great question. The Indians said this was a spot start and Bieber is expected to return to the minors afterwards. However, it’s unlikely we have seen the last of Shane Bieber in 2018. Given the uncertainty surrounding the fifth spot in the starting rotation and the continued problems of the bullpen, Bieber may become a permanent fixture in some capacity before season’s end. If this was an audition for a bigger role, it’s easy to call this a success.

The real question for the Indians is how do they want to utilize Bieber moving forward? Between him and Adam Plutko, they have options, especially in the rotation. But, should the problems in the bullpen persist, which seems likely, do Plutko and/or Bieber shift into a relief role later on in the season? It’s hard to know for sure. Starting and relieving are to very different animals. Do they want to risk damage, either mentally or physically, to two young pitchers that have shown promise? If history tells us anything, it’s more likely the Indians will seek outside help first by way of trade. Plutko and Bieber would probably only become options should all other options fall flat.

But based on early returns, the future looks bright for Shane Bieber. He came out and did what he has done all throughout his minor league career to this point. He was calm and relaxed. The moment didn’t look to big for him. Without being told, there would have been no way to tell this was his first major league start. In that sense, it’s was very Kluber-esque.

What will be interesting to see is how Bieber responds to adversity. How will he perform without an eight run lead? Can he handle some of the more dangerous and potent big league lineups like the Yankees or Red Sox? Will his arsenal of pitches hold up as teams build up a scouting report on him? Can he make the necessary changes to maintain success? Only time will tell, but after one start there is definitely a reason to be optimistic.