Shane Bieber pitched like he was in midseason form, even though the July 24th contest between the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals marked the first game of the 2020 season. The Tribe bats scratched across a pair of runs to support Bieber’s 14 strikeouts over six scoreless four-hit innings as the Indians blanked the Royals by a 2-0 final from Progressive Field.
Bieber put together a historic effort in the annals of Indians history, surpassing the team’s previous mark for strikeouts in a season-opening performance established by Gary Bell on April 19, 1960, when he struck out a dozen Tigers in a 4-2 loss to Detroit in 15 innings. Bieber tallied his 14 Ks over six innings, while Bell worked ten and one-third innings in that record-setting outing.
It wasn’t all pretty for Bieber as some command issues in the first slowed him down. He hit Royals All-Star Whit Merrifield with a 2-2 curveball to start the game before getting Adalberto Mondesi to ground into a fielder’s choice force at second. The speedy Mondesi was caught stealing by Indians catcher Roberto Perez, who was a defensive stalwart behind the plate for Bieber on the night. The Tribe’s number one starter walked Jorge Soler on four straight out of the zone and Salvador Perez singled to center to pose a threat, but Alex Gordon whiffed on a low curve to strand a pair.
The Indians got to work early in the first against veteran KC lefty Danny Duffy. After Cesar Hernandez started the home half with a fly to right, Jose Ramirez lined a doubled high off of the left field wall. He moved no further as two pitches later, Francisco Lindor popped to short before Carlos Santana struck out.
Bieber was on his game in the second. He dotted the corner on a 2-2 heater to Ryan McBroom, knocked out Maikel Franco on three pitches on a big hook in the dirt, and then painted the black on a 2-2 offering to Nicky Lopez. He opened the third with a called third strike on Bubba Starling for his fifth straight strikeout and he struck out Mondesi on another wicked knuckle curve to end the inning following a Merrifield lineout.
The Tribe’s new ace was not done making the Royals look foolish. He froze Soler looking on a 3-2 pitch to open the fourth and got S. Perez on three straight. Gordon reached on a single to center, but McBroom struck out on another hook low to end the inning. R. Perez had to track the ball down behind the plate and fired a seed to Santana from the seat of his pants to nab McBroom at first for the final out.
The Royals put themselves in a prime scoring opportunity in the fifth, but could not come through against the dynamic Bieber. He struck out Franco on three straight to start the inning before a single to center by Lopez just in front of Oscar Mercado. Starling struck out on three pitches for the second out before Merrifield singled to right to put runners on the corners. He stole second with Mondesi at the plate to put both men in scoring position, but on the payoff pitch, Bieber used the curve again to strike out the KC shortstop to leave two costly runners on base. With 12 Ks through five, Bieber added two more in the sixth, striking out S. Perez and Gordon swinging after Soler flied to right.
The Indians needed some time to figure out Duffy. Cleveland wasted a leadoff single from Franmil Reyes in the second as Duffy locked in on the mound, with the Indians bats taking an aggressive approach at the plate. He retired nine straight after the Reyes single to bring him into the bottom of the fifth, when things turned in favor of the Tribe.
A fastball in to Jordan Luplow leading off the inning put the Tribe left fielder on at first, setting the stage. Domingo Santana popped up the first pitch that he saw and was retired in foul territory by McBroom for out number one. R. Perez slapped a single back up the middle to put runners on the corners and new Royals manager Mike Matheny retrieved his starter after four and one-third innings on the mound for reliever Scott Barlow. He fell behind 3-1 to Mercado before the Tribe’s center fielder shot a seeing-eye single just past Mondesi into center to put the Indians on the board with the first run of the year. Hernandez slapped the next pitch past the diving Franco at third and into the left field corner for an RBI-double, scoring Perez from third to give the Indians a 2-0 lead. Barlow hit Ramirez on a back door slider that bounced into his left foot to load the bases, but he worked out of it by striking out Lindor and getting C. Santana to ground into a force at second.
The Indians were unable to take advantage of back-to-back two-out walks by D. Santana and R. Perez in the sixth before their bullpen took over on the mound. Adam Cimber pitched a scoreless seventh, issuing a two-out walk to Lopez before getting pinch-hitter Franchy Cordero to ground out to Hernandez. Nick Wittgren pitched a similar inning, hitting Soler on a pitch in with two outs before striking out S. Perez with his second strikeout of the inning to escape any harm.
Royals rookie Tyler Zuber took over for veteran Greg Holland in the seventh and retired six of the seven batters that he faced over two innings in his big league debut to keep the score at 2-0. Brad Hand came on for the save and got the job done, but only after bringing the tying run to the plate for all three outs. Gordon was hit by a 3-2 pitch to put the leadoff man on. McBroom flied to Mercado in shallow right-center for the first out. Franco struck out swinging on three pitches for the third different time on the night for the second out. Erick Mejia, pinch-hitting for Lopez, struck out on high heat from the Tribe lefty to close out win one of the campaign.
BELIEF IN BIEBER CONTINUES
The 25-year-old Bieber picked right back up from where he left off during his All-Star season in 2019. He worked six shutout innings on Friday night, giving up four hits and walking one while also hitting one batter. Fourteen of the 18 batters that he retired came via strikeout, falling just one short of his career-high of 15 strikeouts established last season in his complete game shutout win against the Baltimore Orioles on May 19.
“I thought he was outstanding. First inning they made him work. He didn’t have his best slider, kind of went to his cutter more than his slider. And then in the fifth he had to work again. But for him to get through six on opening night, that’s pretty good pitching,” said Indians manager Terry Francona after the game. “There were a lot of strikeouts in there. I don’t know how many he had, but he had a bunch.
“I think he is learning on the run, not only how to be a guy that can anchor your pitching staff, but how to be a leader, too. And I don’t think he’s shying away from that. I think he’s doing it in a really good way, where he’s not the loudest guy in the room, but he leads by example, the way he carries himself. You’re going to see him grow into a tremendous leader on that pitching staff.”
Bieber’s 14 strikeouts in a season opener marked a new Indians record and fell just one short of the Major League record for strikeouts in the first game of a schedule. It proved to be a nice overall outing for Bieber, who had to recover quickly to find the strike zone after having to work a little bit in the first.
“I was pumped. You could probably tell. I was a little jittery, a little excited, which is always a good thing,” Bieber shared after the game. “That first inning was a little shaky, but ended up working through it. Came back out there in the second and continued to progress and get better and get a little more comfortable. There was a lot of ‘news’ today. A lot of new things for everybody, really. No fans in the stands. I thought I was prepared for it, having practiced against your own team, but it was different when you have another team, another player stepping into the box that you haven’t seen potentially at all and there’s no fans in the stands and pumped in crowd noise. Ended up getting used to it and fell into a nice little rhythm.”
The Tribe players opted to forgo their typical home attire and, in particular, the jerseys worn on special event days like the Home Opener, and instead chose their road jerseys with the ‘Cleveland’ name on them instead of the home jerseys featuring their ‘Indians’ nickname.
“The idea is not to be disrespectful, the idea is to make a point, and I think this is a good way to do it,” said Francona. The Indians skipper also noted that it might be the only time this season that the Indians wear their “road blues” at home due to league rules regarding jersey use.
A group gathered outside of the ball park with signs protesting the team’s continued use of the ‘Indians’ moniker.
“It was a message we were trying to send and a statement we were trying to provide and I feel like it was a really good one,” said Bieber postgame. “It came out of our hearts and I know that the team name is something very endearing to a lot of Tribe fans that have been following us for a long, long time. But moving forward, I think it’s up to the front office and ownership and they’re taking actions of their own, too. We’ll see where it goes. But from a team standpoint, I feel like we were all on board with that tonight.”
Prior to the game, the Indians announced a new addition to their 30-man roster as outfielder Daniel Johnson was recalled from the team’s Alternative Training Site in Eastlake. Johnson was added due to the uncertain status surrounding Tyler Naquin, who is battling a right big toe contusion and minor fracture in the digit.
Naquin was not placed on the injured list, but the team did not need to do so as it has not officially recalled fifth starter Zach Plesac from Triple-A Columbus. With the extra spot on the roster available for Johnson to provide some extra outfield depth until Tuesday, it gives the team more time to determine whether or not Naquin will need a stint on the shelf.
If and when Johnson takes the field, it will be his Major League debut. He was added to the Indians’ 40-man roster in the offseason and changed his jersey number from 71 to 23 on Friday.
Game two of three from Progressive Field this weekend is scheduled for a 5:10 PM ET first pitch on Saturday afternoon.
The Indians will send right-hander Mike Clevinger to the mound for his 2020 debut against Royals’ rookie right-hander Brady Singer, who will be making his Major League debut. Clevinger benefited from extra time off over the last four months, sparing him an early season stint on the injured list after knee surgery in the spring. Singer was the Royals’ first round draft pick in 2018.
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