CLEVELAND, Ohio — Depending on who you ask, the Cleveland Indians still might not know who their closer is, but the identity of their stopper is undeniable.
When Cleveland is coming off a loss — as was the case Sunday against Cincinnati — nobody delivers like Shane Bieber. In beating the Reds, the 25-year-old righty improved to 17-7 with a 2.98 ERA for his career in games he starts after an Indians loss.
Manager Terry Francona said it was nice after Saturday’s debacle at Great American Ballpark to be able to turn to Bieber and know he would come through.
“When you wake up this morning and you see him running out to the bullpen, that makes you feel a little better,” Francona said.
Bieber struck out a season-high 13 Reds batters and got through the eighth inning after tossing nine scoreless innings in his previous outing at Chicago. He extended his streak of consecutive starts with at least eight strikeouts to 16 games, tied with Pedro Martinez for the second-longest such run in major league history. Bieber became the first pitcher with 10 or more strikeouts in his first four starts of a season, and tied Nolan Ryan’s 1978 record of 48 strikeouts in that span.
Francona said Bieber established his fastball early and then baffled Cincinnati hitters the third and fourth time through the order with his breaking pitches and changeup.
“That’s why you call guys aces, and he’s certainly lived up to that,” Francona said. “He’s really accountable for what he needs to do.”
He struck out seven batters after the fifth inning, including six of the last seven batters he faced. In wrapping up a road trip that saw the Indians lose in a variety of unusual ways (no-hitter, walk-off, errors), Bieber said it was nice to answer the challenge on getaway day.
“Just on this road trip alone, we’ve been punched in the mouth a little bit, but I feel like we’ve responded well every single time,” Bieber said. “That points to a lot of good things in the future — in the near future.”
Jordan Luplow, whose clutch two-out, two-run home run in the seventh gave Bieber a four-run cushion at the time, said it’s reassuring to know the 2020 American League Cy Young winner is on the mound.
“We’ve just got to come out every day and compete,” Luplow said. “Obviously it’s a little easier with Bieber on the mound. He gives us a good chance to win every day.”
For Luplow, who has played more in center field this season, the perspective on Bieber’s pitches has gotten even more impressive. Now, when Bieber deals his array of curveballs and sliders, Luplow can just admire from afar.
“It’s really fun to sit there and watch,” Luplow said. “Getting to see his pitches move and where they’re moving is impressive. I’m glad I’m not in the box.”
While Bieber strikes out an AL-best 14.8 hitters per nine innings, Luplow uses the time to prep for his next at-bat.
“You’re not really doing too much in the outfield,” Luplow said. “It’s nice. You get a little comfy out there. He does a great job competing. He just makes his all his pitches.”