It was more of the same from Shane Bieber on Thursday night as he fired off eight shutout innings while racking up 13 more strikeouts and James Karinchak pitched a perfect ninth for his first Major League save as the Cleveland Indians took game one from the Minnesota Twins, 2-0.
In his first start since setting a new Indians franchise record with 14 strikeouts in a season opener, Bieber was right back at it as Cleveland opened its series at Target Field with a strong message for the reigning American League Central champs. He faced little resistance throughout the night in a dominating performance, having one actual challenging inning to contend with while beginning his season with numbers seen just one other time in the Live Ball era. The Tribe offense was not able to do much against Minnesota starter Jose Berrios and the Twins bullpen, but Bieber and Karinchak made the two runs provided stand up.
The two AL All-Star starters from a year ago went toe-to-toe in the first inning, matching each other with perfect innings while striking out a pair. The Indians got a runner in scoring position with one out in the second as Franmil Reyes singled to center and moved to second on a wild pitch before Bradley Zimmer flied out for the second out. Domingo Santana was plunked by a pitch on the elbow to put two on, but Sandy Leon’s tough day at the plate started with a fielder’s choice force to short. Bieber set down Nelson Cruz and Eddie Rosario on grounders to short before striking out Mitch Garver looking.
A pair of big two-out hits from some familiar run providers got Cleveland on the board in the second. Jose Ramirez laced a sharp single to right after outs from Oscar Mercado and Cesar Hernandez. Francisco Lindor fouled off two curveballs before catching a pitch over the plate, belting it 409 feet to right-center for a two-out, two-run home run to put the Indians up, 2-0. Carlos Santana followed with a walk before Reyes struck out swinging.
Luis Arraez put a positive mark on the Twins stat sheet to open the bottom of the third, leading off the inning with an 0-2 single to right-center for Minnesota’s first hit. Bieber took care of things from there, striking out both Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton swinging and then Max Kepler looking to leave the lead at two.
Berrios retired the side in order in the fourth with another strikeout, while Bieber matched him again in the home half, striking out Josh Donaldson before a fly out by Jorge Polanco and a grounder to short by Cruz.
The Indians got a two-out runner in the fifth when Ramirez worked a walk, but Lindor lined out to deep right, coming up short in an RBI-bid. Bieber countered by retiring his three in the bottom half, adding another strikeout looking by Garver.
Berrios exited after five, having allowed two runs on three hits with two walks and six strikeouts in a much better performance than his first start last Friday. Zack Littell came on in relief for manager Rocco Baldelli and got into trouble, but worked his way out of it. Reyes singled for his second hit of the day with one out. An infield single by Zimmer and a throwing error by Sano put two in scoring position. D. Santana walked to load the bases, but Leon grounded back to Littell, who started the 1-2-3 double play to get out of a big jam.
Bieber’s biggest challenge came in the bottom of the sixth. With one out, Buxton singled to left on the first pitch that he saw. Kepler followed with a single the opposite way to put two on with only one down with the heart of the order looming. Bieber once again buckled down, winning a long battle with Donaldson by getting him to chase a curve out of the zone for strike three before Polanco lined deep to Mercado in center to leave two runners on the base paths.
Littell walked a pair in the seventh. Hernandez walked with one out, but was picked off first. Ramirez drew his second walk of the game and moved to second on a wild pitch, but Lindor lined to center for the final out. Bieber continued doing Bieber things, striking out Rosario swinging for the second out of the seventh before freezing Garver a third time looking to close the frame.
C. Santana welcomed Twins rookie reliever Lewis Thorpe to the mound with a single in the eighth, but he was erased on a double play grounder by pinch-hitter Jordan Luplow in an otherwise quiet eighth. Bieber made quick work of the Twins again in the other half, getting Arraez to line to right before striking out Sano and Buxton with his 13th and final strikeout of the contest.
The Indians left Leon at first after his one-out single in the ninth against Thorpe to send the game to its final countdown. With Brad Hand unavailable after pitching the previous two days, Tribe manager Terry Francona turned to his young flamethrower Karinchak, in search of his first big league save. He needed just six pitches to do so, striking out Kepler on three straight curveballs for the first out, getting Donaldson to pop his first pitch up to second for the second out, and following that with a pop to short by Polanco secured safely by Lindor to end the ball game.
The win moved the Indians to 5-2 on the season in their first of seven ball games in Minnesota this season. The Twins dropped a half-game behind the Indians for first place in the AL Central and are now 4-2 on the year.
Bieber was locked in and filthy all night long. He worked eight innings, allowing just three hits with no runs and no walks allowed. He made 102 pitches, with 69 of them counting for strikes and 22 of them coming in swing-and-miss fashion.
His 13 strikeouts pushed his season total to 27. That number matched the record for the most strikeouts by a pitcher in his first two starts of the season, equaling the 27 struck out by Brooklyn’s Karl Spooner in 1954. Spooner made just two starts that September for the Dodgers, throwing two complete game shutouts while scattering seven hits and six walks. He made just 29 more appearances in his big league career the next season.
Two of the Tribe’s seven hits on the day came from Reyes, who went 2-for-4 with a pair of singles. Ramirez reached three times via a single and two walks, while Lindor knocked in both runs with his second homer in the last three days. Hernandez’s modest five-game hitting streak ended with an 0-for-4 effort at the plate, but he did draw a walk.
Kepler, Arraez, and Buxton each singled to provide the entire offensive production from the Twins against Bieber and Karinchak. Donaldson and Garver both struck out three times, with Kepler, Sano, and Buxton adding two more apiece to account for the bulk of Cleveland’s 14 strikeouts logged on the day.
Game two of the four-game set from Target Field is scheduled for an 8:10 PM ET first pitch on Friday night. The Twins will utilize Randy Dobnak (0-1, 2.25 ERA) in his second spot start of the season, while the Indians will counter with right-hander Mike Clevinger (0-0, 2.57). Dobnak, making just his tenth big league appearance on Saturday, allowing a run on three hits with two walks and three strikeouts in four innings of work in a tough loss. Clevinger gave up a pair of first inning homers before settling down with six shutout innings to follow in a no-decision against Kansas City.
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