The Cleveland Indians have won five consecutive games, so they are hardly desperate for a stopper or a savior on the mound going into their series finale versus the host Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.
They can, however, sweep the three-game set, and their trust level seems sky high with their scheduled starter, Shane Bieber.
The 25-year-old right-hander not only is 4-0 with a 1.30 ERA, but he also passes the whiff test.
Bieber, who is expected to face Pittsburgh right-hander Trevor Williams (1-3, 3.98 ERA), has 54 strikeouts over his first five starts. That’s the third most in as many starts in the major leagues dating to 1906.
“We’re getting accustomed to him being an ace of a pitcher, so we’re really happy that he’s actually doing what he’s doing right now,” Cleveland third baseman Jose Ramirez said.
Bieber has at least eight strikeouts in each of his five starts. On Saturday at Detroit, he struck out 11 over seven scoreless, three-hit innings, with one walk, in a 3-1 Indians win.
It was the 10th time in his career he has reached double digits, and his career stretches only to 2018.
It’s not just Bieber’s heater that gets batters. Against Detroit, according to MLB.com, Bieber rang up six hitters with a curveball, three on a slider and two with a fastball.
“He’s got an assortment of pitches and changes speed really well,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s got a little bit of a hiccup in his windup where all of a sudden, the ball just jumps out of nowhere. He’s a really good pitcher. We knew that coming in. You watch video of him and you see how much his ball moves.”
Coming up, Bieber didn’t have the reputation of being a heavy strikeout pitcher, but something is working in the big leagues.
“As long as I’m still a strike thrower, and a strikeout guy, I think that’s the best of both worlds,” he said. “But I’m just going to continue to be me. There’s a lot of things that I know I could get better at and continue to work on throughout the season, and we’ll see where it goes.”
One of the biggest blemishes on Bieber’s career line came July 24, 2018, in his only career start against Pittsburgh. He had his shortest start of his career, giving up seven runs and seven hits in 1 2/3 innings, including two homers, with two strikeouts and no walks.
Pittsburgh could use another game like that against Bieber. The Pirates have won just two of their past 15, and Bieber is following a complete-game, five-hit performance from fellow starter Aaron Civale in Cleveland’s 6-1 win.
The bullpen has been failing Pittsburgh. On Tuesday, relievers gave up all six runs and walked seven in four innings. Three of those walks came around to score.
“I think we have to be more aggressive with going after guys and making people beat us instead of putting free runners on,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said.
Bieber’s counterpart Wednesday, Williams, has allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his first four starts for the Pirates.
Williams is coming off a win at Cincinnati on Aug. 13, when he gave up three runs and seven hits in five innings, with four strikeouts and a walk.
In his only career start against Cleveland, Williams picked up a victory with six scoreless innings on July 23, 2018.
–Field Level Media