The 2020 version of Shane Bieber set a bar that would be pretty close to impossible to reach again. But in the past six weeks, the 2022 version has come pretty close.
Bieber won the American League Cy Young in the shortened 2020 season with a dominant stretch in which he posted a 1.63 ERA and struck out 122 hitters in 77⅓ innings (12 starts). The strikeouts haven’t been piled up quite as high, but Bieber has been nearly as effective lately.
In his past 10 outings, including his start in the Guardians’ 5-1 win over the Minnesota Twins in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, Bieber has posted a 1.68 ERA with 74 strikeouts and nine walks in 69⅔ innings. Bieber has been solid this season as a whole — he had a 3.24 ERA in the first half — but has found another gear while the Guardians inch closer to reclaiming the American League Central Division crown.
“When he pitches, just his pace that he has, it’s just a different feel when you’re out there on defense,” said Owen Miller after Bieber’s eight-inning, one-run performance Saturday. “The innings roll by and it’s really fun to watch. … Shane’s definitely been on a different level and if he can keep that up … he’s about as good as anyone.”
Bieber has dealt with yet another velocity decrease this season (91.3 mph fastball this year, down from 94.1 mph in 2020), but it hasn’t been a deterrent to a dominant stretch since the end of July. Bieber has adapted and, in a way, evolved, in an effort to maintain his ace status.
“He’s got such a nice feeling for manipulating the ball that guys like him, they’re kind of amazing,” manager Terry Francona said. “They get a ball in their hand and they can make it do different things.”
Bieber, has undergone another adaptation via the decreased use of his curveball, which for some time was a go-to weapon. In Saturday’s start, Bieber went to the curveball only 14 percent of the time. Last season, he threw his curveball 31 percent of the time. Instead, Bieber has leaned more on his fastball, cutter and slider. It’s been difficult to argue with the results. And it isn’t necessarily an issue with the curveball, it’s just that the other three pitches have been more effective.
“I think my [curveball] usage is down a little bit, but the response and the feedback that I’m getting and what [Austin Hedges] is telling me and the that the hitters are telling me is that I’m right where I want it to be,” Bieber said. “My other pitches are playing up and I’m gonna abuse those a little bit and I’ll throw the curveball when I need to. It showed up in some of the bigger situations today, so that was nice to rely on.”
Kirk McCarty rescues Guardians in 15-inning marathon game
Amed Rosario had a superb day during the Guardians’ doubleheader on Saturday, combining to collect eight hits and six RBIs between the two games, it was Kirk McCarty who rescued the Guardians in the late innings of the nightcap, which lasted into the hours of early Sunday morning.
With the game on the line, McCarty pitched three innings — the 13th, 14th and 15th — and kept the Twins scoreless each time despite the free runner that was put at second base to begin each inning in extras. Three times in a row, I stopped the Twins’ offense. It just took the Guardians three times to make it count, with an error finally ending it in the 15th.
“I saved our bacon. I pitched, I competed. That was — it made a potentially, really frustrating ending into a good night,” Francona said.
McCarty joked after the game that he used to pitch with runners on, so the extra-innings scenario was normal to him.
“I’ve pitched with a guy on second a lot in my career, so it wasn’t too bad,” McCarty said. “But that’s the situation we’re in with that rule in extras. It’s odd to go out there with them out there already but you know you’ve got a job to do, and it’s pitching in a high leverage situation and keep them from scoring.”
Rosario’s eight hits in Saturday’s doubleheader were tied for the most in club history, joining Earl Averill in 1933 and Nap Lajoie in 1910.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about the Guardians at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/cleveland-guardians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Guardians ace Shane Bieber on hot streak, adjusting curveball usage