Major League Baseball will kick off the 2019 season with its earliest start ever (excluding international openers) as all 30 teams will take the field on March 28. Follow along with Did The Tribe Win Last Night as we count down the days until Opening Day 2019. – BT
Countdown to Opening Day – 57 days
The 2018 season was part of a special year for the most recent Tribe player to wear the number 57, Shane Bieber.
Few would have projected in the spring that the right-handed Bieber would fly through two minor league levels in a dominating performance on the farm while making real contributions to the Indians’ stacked starting rotation during the 2018 campaign. But that was reality for the young pitcher, who racked up plenty of personal accomplishments during just his third professional season in the Cleveland organization.
Bieber was not even a member of the Indians’ 40-man roster when the year began, making his name an unknown one among casual Tribe fans. But after spring training work was completed, it was off to Double-A Akron for the 22-year-old to begin his second stint with the RubberDucks after pitching in nine games for the Eastern League club in 2017. Looking to build on a 2-1 effort with a 2.32 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP in those appearances, Bieber did exactly that by firing off three straight scoreless outings to open his season, scattering ten hits with 23 strikeouts and no walks in 20 innings of work while earning a pair of wins.
The Bowie Baysox figured Bieber out on April 22, as they got him for three runs on ten hits in six innings, but the ‘Ducks backed Bieber’s quality outing to give him his third win in four starts. Bowie scored three more off of Bieber (one earned) in his next outing on April 28, but with a 3-0 mark, a 1.16 ERA, a 0.87 WHIP, and a 30.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio, his time in Akron was over and he was on his way to Triple-A Columbus.
Bieber walked a pair in his International League debut against Charlotte, taking a no-decision despite allowing one run on two hits and two walks in six innings. He took a loss in his next outing and in the middle of the month suffered another tough no-decision, but he made it seven quality starts in eight outings to open his season between the two levels.
With his ninth start, he lasted eight shutout innings, failing to walk a batter for the seventh time on the year while limiting Charlotte to just three hits. While that start was impressive, his next was even better as he threw a rain-shortened seven-inning no-hitter with seven strikeouts in Gwinnett against the Stripers on May 25. He was rewarded with a call to the Show and he made his first start on May 31 (his 23rd birthday) against the Minnesota Twins. He lasted five and two-thirds innings in a no-decision, allowing four runs on eight hits with six strikeouts.
Bieber returned to Columbus for two more starts after his big league debut, but he was back with the Tribe in the middle of June and looked much more comfortable. He allowed just a run in five and two-thirds in his next start for Cleveland for his first MLB win on June 17, then followed it with seven shutout innings of four-hit baseball against Detroit. Bieber became just the third Indians pitcher to open his career with six or more strikeouts in at least three straight games, joining Herb Score (eight in 1955) and Luis Tiant (three in 1964).
He earned an interleague win against St. Louis (and he notched a double for his first MLB hit) and followed with another victory on the road against Kansas City to claim four straight wins. He ended June with a 3-0 record and a 0.96 ERA, and he won five of six decisions before returning to the minors for three innings on July 19, but then he was back in Cleveland for good to close out the season.
July exposed him to some rough numbers for the first time, as he posted a 7.33 ERA in his five starts with four homers allowed. But he was back to being sharp in August, going 3-0 in five outings with a 3.81 ERA and a season’s best 1.17 WHIP while striking out 32 of the 117 batters that he faced over 28 1/3 innings. September proved to be a roller coaster as he may have run out of gas some. He struck out a season-high eleven batters in six and two-thirds shutout innings on September 11 against Tampa, but he allowed eleven runs over his next two outings. He closed out the season on a positive note, though, working six shutout innings while allowing two hits and two walks and striking out nine.
Bieber finished the year with a combined 17-6 record between Akron, Columbus, and Cleveland with a 3.29 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, and a 9.0 K/9 rate in 33 games (32 starts) and 194 1/3 innings in his heaviest workload of his brief career. Specifically for the Indians, he went 11-5 with a 4.55 ERA, a 1.33 WHIP, and a 10.2 K/9 rate, and he was a perfect 7-0 in eleven road starts. Lefties hit him hard, hitting .316 with 17 of his 23 walks for Cleveland, but he limited righties to a .252 mark and a .272 on-base percentage with a 9.17 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His 5.1 strikeout-to-walk rate was one of the best marks in the Majors among pitchers to tally at least 100 innings on the big league mound.
The surprise showing for Bieber put him right into the mix for a spot in the Tribe’s rotation for years to come. With plenty of crowding ahead of him on the pitching staff in the likes of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Mike Clevinger, Bieber still has the leg up over teammate Adam Plutko to hold a spot as the fifth man. The success and potential of the two young pitchers allowed the Cleveland front office to entertain trade offers for their All-Star starting pair over the winter (and while a trade has yet to come, a trade during the season cannot be ruled out if it provides the Indians with the pieces to contend not just in the American League Central, but for the AL pennant and a world championship). Bieber has age on his side and has little wear and tear on his arm, working minimally in 2016 before pitching regularly the last two seasons. While his end-of-the-year numbers were plump in a few spots, he served a valuable role on the club as he got opportunities when injuries and Josh Tomlin‘s struggles left plenty of starts free for the taking.
It has been an impressive and rapid ascent for the Tribe’s fourth rounder from the 2016 draft, but the future for Bieber looks like it has a chance to be bright. The Indians will be looking for more of the same from him and his strong slider moving forward as the team relies on their strong starting pitching to make up for other deficiencies on the roster and in the organization’s depth.
Other players to wear #57 in Indians history:
Joe Hauser (1929; the first to do so in MLB history), Billy Harrell (1955), Rod Nichols (1988), Jeff Shaw (1990-92), John Smiley (1997), Brian Williams (2000), Ryan Drese (2001-02), Jason Boyd (2003), Lou Pote (2004), Kyle Denney (2004), Jeremy Guthrie (2006), Zach Jackson (2008-09), Hector Ambriz (2010), Zach McAllister (2011), Jeremy Accardo (2012), Scott Maine (2012), Clay Rapada (2013), Joe Martinez (2013), Kyle Crockett (2014-17)
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images
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