Third time through not kind to Bieber

Rookie knocked out by piped pitches to Rays

Alex Hooper
September 01, 2018 - 11:54 pm
Sep 1, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Shane Bieber (57) pitches the ball during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Progressive Field.

© Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 the Fan) – Two times through the order, Cleveland Indians rookie Shane Bieber has been better than most through 15 starts.

The first two times through the order against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday, the righty was brilliant, scattering six hits over five scoreless. After another half rotation through Kevin Cash’s nine, Bieber was in position to lose, and would up doing so.

After a leadoff single from fellow rookie Brandon Lowe, Bieber allowed back to back doubles to Joey Wendle and Matt Duffy, tying the game at two. The promising 23-year-old got Ji-Man Choi to ground out, but allowed another Tommy Pham double a batter later, giving the Rays a lead they would not relinquish, and knocking Bieber out of the game.

Looking at the pitches thrown through those first three hitters in the top of the 6th, it is easy to see why the visitors feasted.

All three balls in play were in the same area, in the middle of the plate at the knees. The Rays noticed, and so did Manager Terry Francona.

“You know, it’s happened a couple of starts where he’ll go and command so well, then for about four or five hitters it wanders over towards the middle,” the skipper said. “He misses over the plate. He does such a good job of working ahead in the count, but it is just like, early in the count it was just catching way too much of the plate.”

Prior to that point, it had been quite the opposite. Bieber’s pitch chart was a work of art.

Almost all of Bieber’s sliders were tucked into the zone, glove side. The curveballs lined the black of the plate on the inside. Fastballs peppered into the upper part of the zone to change eye-level. 45 strikes, 19 balls.

That is how the rookie has made his name, but without a plus-fastball, leaving pitches over the plate will send things downhill in a hurry.

“I think they were sitting off-speed a little bit and third time around the order team’s have been seeing me a little bit, a little bit better,” Bieber said. “I’m pretty frustrated with ... ya know, I feel like I’m putting myself in some pretty good positions to have the outings that I want, but the third time around the order they’re making adjustments before I can make adjustments and to me that’s frustrating. But that’s part of the process. I gotta learn from it and I know I’ll get better from it.”

Like most pitchers, what the rookie said about the third time through the order holds true: hitters have more success against him after more exposure.

Entering Saturday, Bieber had allowed a .753 OPS the first time through the order, 14% better than the league average pitcher. The second time, that number was .800, 2% worse than average. Third time through, Bieber’s OPS against was .880, 17% worse than average.