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TORONTO — This season, Shane Bieber has been building himself up in more ways than one.
The ace right-hander has been steady all year, but recently he’s tapped back into his 2020 American League Cy Young capabilities. Bieber entered Sunday’s game having posted a 1.35 ERA in his last three starts. He kept the momentum rolling, as the Guardians took two of three games at Rogers Centre with a resounding 7-2 win over the Blue Jays.
Toronto got to Bieber early, tagging him for a first-inning run as three of the Jays’ first four hitters reached base. At that moment, the 27-year-old took a deep breath and lasered in. With Cleveland’s infield in, he whiffed Matt Chapman with a nasty slider and induced a groundout to escape the inning.
From that point on, nothing seemed to faze Bieber. The Guardians starter sat down the next eight Blue Jays hitters, silencing their bats with machine-like efficiency and racking up six strikeouts in the process.
“I thought that was [Bieber’s] best fastball of the year,” said Guardians manager Terry Francona. “And that bodes well anytime you’re in the middle of August … Our guys, they work, and I think that’s why the tank doesn’t look like it’s half empty. It looks like it’s more going toward the full sign.”
Bieber finished with a tidy line through seven innings of work, allowing only two earned runs while scattering eight hits. In an even more promising development, the righty touched a season-high 94.6 mph with his fastball in the sixth inning.
“It’s just positive feedback,” Bieber said of his uptick in velocity. “It’s nice to have. [I’ve] been making adjustments all year, so to continue to get positive feedback is encouraging.”
The velocity has been a work in progress for Bieber since April, when he opened the year tossing fastballs in the low-90s. In a seventh-inning jam, the added juice on the heater paid off.
In a pivotal at-bat versus Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bieber fired two four-seamers to set up a biting slider that induced a roll-over by the Blue Jays’ superstar.
Bieber was seeking a strikeout in that situation, but he was still fired up as he left the mound for the final time.
“It was big,” said Bieber. “It’s kind of the situations that you play for, that you pitch for. I found myself in that [moment], and I was able to take advantage of it.”
In typical Guardians fashion, Bieber’s support on Sunday was a full-team offensive effort. As fans were still finding their seats in the first inning, Amed Rosario stepped in ready to hit. The Cleveland shortstop saw a fastball right down the middle from Kevin Gausman and promptly ripped it 422 feet to center field.
“I’m trying to always go to home plate aggressive,” Rosario said through a team interpreter. “There are some times that I don’t feel myself, like aggressive at the plate, but today I just came off ready to play the game.”
The solo shot from Rosario, Cleveland’s sparkplug in the No. 2 spot, broke the ice against the usually unflappable Gausman and set the wheels in motion for some scrappy run production out of the bottom of Cleveland’s order.
Winners of seven of their last eight games, the Guardians have looked sharp during a period in the season when teams tend to wilt under the August heat. The series win over Toronto was once again rooted in excellent pitching, smart baserunning, and quality defense — a recipe that’s helped Cleveland sneak into first place in the AL Central.
The Guardians are playing their best baseball of the season right now. With a rested bullpen thanks to Bieber and an upcoming four-game series at home against the Tigers, Cleveland has a clear blueprint for the next leg of its journey toward a playoff berth.
“It was a great series, the way that my teammates came [and played] every day … we just keep looking to continue with this pace,” Rosario said.