With the way Shane Bieber is pitching this season, it might not be too unreasonable to think that he could find his way to the Cleveland Indians’ Major League roster before the season is out. On Friday night, the impressive start to the professional career of the Indians’ 22-year-old pitching prospect continued when he threw a rain-shortened no-hitter in Gwinnett against the Stripers.
Bieber, who earlier in the week was named the International League’s Pitcher of the Week after allowing just one run on eight hits with 15 strikeouts and no walks in 14 2/3 innings of two starts against Gwinnett and Charlotte, picked right back up where he left off in his fifth professional start at the Triple-A level for the Clippers. Making his first start since winning his third career pitcher of the week award (June of 2017 with High-A Lynchburg and April of this season with Double-A Akron), the Indians’ fourth round pick in the 2016 draft out of UC Santa Barbara faced the minimum against the Atlanta Braves’ top affiliate, initially doing battle with both the Stripers and Mother Nature before the latter chipped in with a big, but potentially unnecessary, save.
The historic outing may just earn him a second consecutive piece of hardware from the International League come Monday.
Pitching at Gwinnett’s Coolray Stadium in Georgia, Bieber faced off with long-time Major League hurler Anibal Sanchez. The two right-handers worked quickly through the first two innings, with Sanchez striking out a pair and Bieber using a diet of ground balls to amass four of his first six outs retired.
Columbus threatened in the third in what would be Sanchez’s final inning of work. Eric Haase drew a walk and moved to second on an infield single by Eric Stamets. Jon Berti’s sacrifice bunt backfired, as Haase was forced at third. Back-to-back strikeouts of Todd Hankins and Yu Chang ended the rally.
A defensive miscue would lead to the first Stripers baserunner of the game in the third. With one down, Xavier Avery reached safely on an error at short by Stamets. Bieber, however, would pick him off before retiring the number nine hitter on a grounder to first baseman Nellie Rodriguez. He made it 12-up, 12-down with a strikeout of Peter Bourjos and a pair of groundouts to finish the fourth.
Jason Hursh took over for Sanchez and Gwinnett in the fourth and worked around a one-out runner at third base, using a double play ball to get out of the jam. He would not be as lucky in the next frame, as the Clippers would send nine men to the plate and give Bieber a well-deserved lead. After Haase grounded out to start the inning, Stamets singled and stole second base. Berti moved him to third with a single to left and picked off second base. Hankins knocked in the first run of the game, scoring Stamets while reaching safely himself on a throwing error by the Gwinnett shortstop. Chang scored Berti with a single to right and Brandon Barnes plated another with a suicide squeeze to score Hankins from third to make it 3-0. Mike Papi singled home Chang with the fourth run of the inning and Adam Rosales walked, but Rodriguez left the pair on a fly out to center.
David Peterson came on in relief for the Stripers in the sixth and helped Columbus build a bigger lead. After Haase flied out to start the inning, Stamets and Berti singled to put runners on the corners. Berti stole second base for the second straight inning before Hankins was called out on strikes for the second out. With two in scoring position, Chang delivered with a two-run single to center. He would score after a walk by Barnes and a single by Papi off of reliever Chad Bell, making it a 7-0 game.
Bieber worked a quick sixth, getting Tyler Smith to ground out before striking out Avery and Sal Giardina, making it six straight hitless innings for Gwinnett. Haase would reach in the top of the seventh, but would not advance further before Bieber came back out for the seventh, where he added two more strikeouts to his game total before Austin Riley grounded to second with what would be the final pitch the budding star would throw.
Hankins was called out on strikes in the top of the eighth against Bell when the game went into rain delay mode. It was during the delay that Bieber learned that he would not be returning to the mound if play resumed, due to the risk of injury after the stoppage.
Instead, after rain continued for nearly an hour, the game was officially called, giving Bieber his second straight win with the Clippers and his fifth of the season overall. He worked seven scoreless and hitless innings, allowing just one runner to reach via error before picking him off to face the minimum 21 batters. Sixty-one of his 80 pitches thrown crossed for strikes. He struck out seven batters on the night, giving him 22 over his last 21 2/3 innings of work. He has not walked a batter and has allowed just one run to score in that span.
The only thing missing from Bieber’s no-hitter was the opportunity to celebrate at the center of the diamond with his teammates.
In five starts for Columbus, Bieber is 2-1 with a 1.05 ERA and a 0.55 WHIP while holding opposing batters to a .149 average. He has struck out 31 batters and walked just two in 34 1/3 innings of work. Earlier in the season while with Double-A Akron, he went 3-0 with a 1.16 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP in five starts, striking out 30 and walking one in 31 innings of work.
The no-hitter from Bieber was the eighth thrown in minor league baseball this season and the second in the International League. It was the second accomplished by the Indians organization this year – Francisco Perez and James Karinchak threw a combined no-hitter for Class-A Lake County on April 25.
Bieber’s gem was the eighth tossed in the 41-year history of the Columbus Clippers, joining Rod Scurry (7/25/1977), Scott Neilsen (6/8/1988), Kevin Mmahat (7/5/1991), Mariano Rivera (6/26/1995), Adrian Hernandez/Bob Scanlan/Kevin Lovingier (6/10/2002), Justin Germano (7/26/2011), and Tyler Cloyd (7/30/2014). Germano and Cloyd threw theirs as members of the Indians organization; Germano’s was a perfect game.
Photo: Will Fagan/Gwinnett Stripers