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DETROIT — On Friday, the Guardians’ bullpen got a much-needed day of rest when the game was postponed due to inclement weather in the area.
On Saturday, the relievers got another break courtesy of Shane Bieber, who twirled his way through eight innings of one-run ball during Cleveland’s 8-1 win against the Tigers at Comerica Park.
Bieber allowed eight hits — seven of them singles — to carve through Detroit’s lineup en route to his second win of the season, using a four-pitch mix that included a devastating knuckle curve.
“Anytime you — I think he had five innings where he had 10 or fewer pitches — that’s pitching. That’s good pitching,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “… No walks, early contact, I thought he really pitched well.”
The righty has now strung together three quality starts in three tries since surrendering a career-high-tying seven runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Blue Jays on May 7. Slowly fading are the message-board queries of what ails Cleveland’s ace and the water cooler conversations about Bieber’s fastball (which was still down 1.8 mph from last year’s 92.4).
Lately, that feedback has been replaced by appreciation as he works once again to confound batters with deception and movement, like when he handcuffed Tigers catcher Tucker Barnhart on an 82.4 mph curve to end the fifth inning with the bases loaded.
One start prior, also against Detroit, Bieber remarked to catcher Austin Hedges that he’d had enough of falling behind in the counts and that he wanted to “put us in a better situation to succeed.” He fanned a season-high 10 that day, something he hadn’t done in nearly a year, and limited the Tigers to three runs (two earned) across six innings.
The difference between that start and this one? Bieber took the tough loss on May 22 after the Guardians were none too strong behind him. On Saturday, Cleveland showed out early and often to make sure its ace was on comfortable ground, including a pair of inning-ending double plays that allowed Bieber to open the game with seven- and six-pitch frames, respectively.
“Those helped a lot,” Bieber said. “To settle into a game was big. Those balls get through, could be a different story. Defense came up big and was able to make some pitches when I needed to and got out of some early situations, which allowed me to settle in for the rest of the game.”
The Guardians also hammered Detroit at the plate, scoring two in the fourth, four in the seventh and two in the ninth. Jos? Ram?rez powered the movement with a five-RBI game, punctuated by a bases-clearing triple in the seventh and a two-run homer in the ninth.
Ram?rez, who leads MLB in RBIs with 48, is on pace for — are you sitting down? — 185 this season. As of Saturday evening, he also was tied for most triples (four) and tied for fourth-most homers (12).
“It’s just such a pleasure,” Francona said. “And I hope people realize what they’re seeing because, I mean, my goodness, he just is so, so good.”
Though everything fell together nicely on Saturday, allowing the Guardians to even the series at one game apiece, it all began with Bieber.
And if he continues to pitch as well as he did on Saturday, a few people might even be willing to admit they’ve underestimated his moxie.
Bieber isn’t concerned with any of that; he’s just glad he and the Guardians are back on the upswing. Asked if his curve felt the best it had all season, he agreed that a lot was working in Detroit.
“I think it’s getting there; I think everything’s getting there,” he said. “I feel good. I know I say this a lot, but it’s really just about keeping that momentum moving forward, right? Continue to move forward with your progression, your competitiveness, your game plans. That comes from a pitching standpoint and mechanical standpoint, but as a team as well. That’s kind of how we feel. Just got to keep going.”