Shane Bieber’s final start last season was rough. His first one in 2021 wasn’t too much better.
The AL Cy Young winner gave up four runs and didn’t make it through his scheduled two innings on Monday as the Cleveland Indians lost to the Kansas City Royals 8-6 in Goodyear, Arizona.
But while he wasn’t thrilled with his outing, Bieber wasn’t disappointed either. He committed to throwing certain pitches and working on areas he’d like to improve.
“There’s some positives to take away from today in learning how to shape the slider how I want to,” he said. “I started to figure it out in the second inning. I just got to look at the positives. It’s spring training. Go out there and get the next one.”
Bieber led the majors in wins, ERA and strikeouts last year, completing a rare triple crown during the pandemic while becoming Cleveland’s fifth Cy Young winner since 2007.
The right-hander was dominant until the playoffs, when the New York Yankees tagged him for seven runs in 4 2/3 innings in Game 1 of the wild-card round. The Indians were swept out of the wild-card round the next day.
Bieber’s arrival at camp was delayed after he tested positive for COVID-19. Last week, the 25-year-old said he was feeling fine and eager to build on his strong third season in the majors and erase the “sour taste” left by his postseason flop.
Bieber coasted through the first against Kansas City, retiring the Royals in order with former Indians first baseman Carlos Santana hitting a grounder for the final out with an uncharacteristic first-pitch swing.
“I looked at him and I said, ‘What’s wrong with you? You never do that,’” Bieber said. “He looked back and said, ‘spring training, bro.’ He was trying to punk me, that’s for sure.”
In the second, Jorge Soler and Michael Taylor singled before Emmanuel Rivera delivered a two-run double to center. Bieber bounced back with a pair of strikeouts, but Nick Heath hit a single to put the Royals up 3-0.
Bieber has prided himself on pitching deep into games, but he got away from that some last season while trying to be too perfect.
“That’s really my identity,” he said. “At the end of the day that’s something I’ve really relied on and held close to my center for me for a long time as a pitcher is just being able to go deep into ballgames and eat up innings.
“With the shortened season, every run, every pitch seemed so elevated. I found myself, (catcher) Roberto (Pérez) and I kind of found ourselves going for more swing-and-miss and missed bats and found ourselves in more crucial situations than we would have liked,” he said. “Going into this year, that’s something I’d like to continue to improve on and get back to my old ways.”
Ryan McBroom homered, doubled and drove in three runs for Kansas City.