The third time was a charm in a different way for Lynchburg starting pitcher Shane Bieber this week. After making a third straight start and earning a third consecutive victory over the Frederick Keys on Thursday, June 22, the Hillcats right-hander took home the Carolina League’s Pitcher of the Week honors on Monday.
Making his ninth start for the Hillcats and his 14th overall this season, the 22-year-old dominated the Keys for a third outing in a row.
His hardest inning may have been the first inning as the visiting Keys club was down two outs when Ademar Rifaela was hit by a Bieber offering for the game’s first base runner. The next batter, Randolph Gassaway, doubled to left to move the lead runner to third base, but Bieber came back to get Yermin Mercedes to line out to left to end the inning.
Shane Hoelscher singled with one out in the second, but Bieber struck out the next two batters to end the inning. His teammate Jodd Carter gave him a lead to work with after his one-out RBI-double to left scored All-Star Willi Castro with the game’s first run.
Bieber would go on a tear, retiring 12 straight batters after the one-out single in the second. He struck out the final batter of the third and the first of the fourth before two outs in the air. He breezed through the fifth, striking out the second batter, and got a grounder to open the top of the sixth before Ryan Mountcastle doubled to left for the third Frederick hit and fourth base runner of the game. Once again, Bieber was able to lock in, striking out the next batter before his batterymate recorded the final out of the inning on a ball hit in front of the plate.
Still in a tight 1-0 contest, Bieber returned for the seventh. He struck out the first batter looking and got a third strike on a caught foul tip for the second out before a grounder to Castro sent the game to the home half, where the Hillcats expanded on their lead after three straight one-out walks loaded the bases for Martin Cervenka, who scored a pair with a double to make it 3-0.
It would be more than enough for Bieber, who came back out firing for the eighth. He struck out the first batter of the frame swinging, got a grounder to second for the second out, and recorded his final out of the game the same way he had retired ten previous outs, with a strikeout. Leandro Linares worked a perfect ninth for the save as the Hillcats improved to 41-29 on the season.
The final line for Bieber included a season-high eight innings of work. For the first time this season, he held an opponent scoreless and did it on a season-low three hits. He did not walk a batter and hit one. His eleven strikeouts matched his season’s best, previously done on April 14 in Lansing against the Class-A Lugnuts while a member of the Lake County Captains. He accomplished the most recent feat while throwing just 86 pitches.
The win was his third straight and came in his third consecutive start against Frederick, a generally rare occurrence at other levels of the minor leagues. It improved his record while with Lynchburg to 3-1 with a 3.32 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. His control has been impressive, as he walked just four batters and struck out 49 in those 57 innings with the Hillcats.
Bieber started his season with the Captains, going 2-3 with a 3.10 ERA in 29 innings of work over five starts before his promotion to the High-A level on May 5. He worked last season with the short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers, appearing in nine games while posting a 0.38 ERA and a 0.50 WHIP in 24 innings of work with 21 strikeouts and two walks. He was selected earlier that summer by Cleveland in the fourth round of the June amateur draft out of the University of California Santa Barbara.
Editor’s note: Bieber followed up his award with another strong outing on Tuesday night, working six innings in Salem against the Red Sox. He allowed three runs, just one of which was earned, on five hits. He did not walk a batter and he struck out seven for his fourth consecutive win. He has struck out 29 batters and walked just one in 25 2/3 innings during his four-game winning streak.
Photo: Lianna Holub/MILB.com