CLEVELAND (AP) — Shane Bieber is only 25, and that hardly seems fair. He’s already an All-Star MVP, and it might not be too early to call him an ace.
And, he’s only getting better.
“When I say he makes the glass look half-full, that would be the biggest understatement,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s really something.”
Bieber struck out 14 over six scoreless innings as the Indians, making a statement for minorities by wearing their road jerseys with “Cleveland” on the front, took off on a 60-game season sprint by beating the Kansas City Royals 2-0 in their delayed home opener on Friday night.
Bieber began last season as a No. 5 starter with plenty of potential. But the right-hander, who earned MVP honors in the 2019 All-Star Game at Progressive Field, has become the heir apparent to two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, traded by Cleveland to Texas in December.
Bieber isn’t shying away from being a leader.
“I’ve kind of been in that role and that spot a few times with other teams — back in college, back in high school and moving up the ranks with the Indians,” Bieber said. “It’s definitely something I embrace and look forward to.”
Francona said Bieber leads naturally.
“He’s doing it in a really good way where he’s not the loudest guy in the room, but he leads by example, the way he carries himself,” Francona said. “And you’re going to see him grow into a tremendous leader on that pitching staff.”
Bieber’s 14 strikeouts set a club record for opening day and are the most in the majors in an opener since Hall of Famer Randy Johnson also fanned 14 on March 31, 1996. He was just one strikeout shy of the record for an opener held by Washington’s Camilo Pasqual in 1960.
Royals first-year manager Mike Matheny was impressed with Bieber.
“When he needed to make his fastball pitch, he made it,” Matheny said. “The whole day, you couldn’t even think along with him. He kind of threw whatever he wanted.”
Oscar Mercado and César Hernández drove in runs in the fifth for Cleveland, which was blanked over the first four innings by Royals starter Danny Duffy (0-1).
Adam Cimber and Nick Wittgren pitched a scoreless inning apiece, and Brad Hand worked around hitting the leadoff hitter in the ninth for a save.
The Royals struck out 18 times.
The Indians opened this unique season united.
As the club contemplates a name change for the first time in 105 years, the players elected to wear their blue road “Cleveland” jerseys instead of the home whites with “Indians” across the chest.
All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor said the fashion choice was a statement designed to raise awareness for all minorities and support the team’s consideration of a name change that many groups have said is long overdue.
“It gives us hope that change will get done,” said Lindor, whose uncertain future hangs over the club. “It’s a huge statement. I stand by my teammates. I stand by minorities and people who need the spotlight. We’re there.”
Bieber started slowly, hitting Whit Merrifield to open the game before settling in and finding his groove.
He struck out eight of nine during one stretch and sent more than one Royals back to the dugout shaking his head.
Bieber ran into his only trouble in the fifth. A pair of singles gave the Royals runners at second and third with two outs, but Bieber struck out Adalberto Mondesi to end the threat and punctuated the punch-out with a fist pump.
Bieber was penciled in to start the Indians’ originally scheduled opener in March before the coronavirus pandemic shut down baseball. The break hardly bothered him.
The late July date wasn’t the only oddity for the opener as there were strange sights around the vacant ballpark, which once hosted 455 consecutive sellouts.
When the Indians were introduced before the game, Slider, the team’s fuzzy, purplish mascot, stood on the home run plaza in left field waving a flag. He looked lonely and later grabbed a seat down the third-base line with some cardboard cutout fans.
Merrifield said playing without fans was harder than he imagined.
“It was an opening day and the atmosphere sucked,” he said. “But I still had jitters, still had that adrenaline which was exciting for me to feel that adrenaline again. But it’s Opening Day, you want to have fans, you want to have a crowd, you want it to be loud and it wasn’t.”
Before the game, several Native American groups walked along Ontario Street next to the ballpark calling for the team to immediately change its name. Owner Paul Dolan plans to meet with Native American leaders as the team considers dropping Indians, its name since 1915.
Royals: 3B Hunter Dozier remains sidelined after testing positive for the coronavirus earlier this week. The 28-year-old hit 26 homers and drove in 84 runs last season.
Indians: OF Tyler Naquin has been slowed by a hairline toe fracture, which he sustained fouling a ball off his foot in Monday’s exhibition against Pittsburgh.
Mike Clevinger has owned the Royals. The Indians’ free-spirited right-hander is 9-0 in his career against Kansas City. Clevinger, who had knee surgery before training camp was halted, will face rookie Brady Singer, a 2018 first-round selection making his major league debut.
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