Bieber’s rust ‘not an excuse’ for tough outing

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CHICAGO — It’s been 12 days since Shane Bieber made his last start. And while that type of break can be beneficial in the long run to help keep his arm as healthy as possible, we saw on Sunday the types of risks that come along with it.

Bieber was not the same hurler who toed the rubber 12 days ago against this White Sox lineup. Last time, he held them to one run on three hits in his first complete game of the season. But after his next scheduled outing was rained out the day before the All-Star break, he had to wait even longer to get back on the mound and some rust showed, as he put his team in an early deficit that led to a 6-3 loss to the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“Yeah, it’s difficult, but not an excuse,” Bieber said of the long break. “I think ultimately, [I have to] go out there and have to do better than I did today. It is what it is. That’s kind of one of the challenges the All-Star break poses. But it poses that for everybody.”

All six of Chicago’s runs came from the long ball. Bieber gave up two blasts in the second inning and one in the sixth. The positive takeaway is that he was at least able to grind through six frames even though he clearly wasn’t at his best, saving a bullpen that’s already had a grueling start to the second half of the season with a doubleheader right out of the gate. But in that process, Bieber gave up as many homers in this one outing as he had in his past 10 starts combined — his first multihomer performance since April 25 against the Angels.

“I think, mechanically, he fell out of his [routine] in that inning when he gave up five [runs],” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “He made the adjustment and I think later he fell back into it. He had a pretty long layoff, which in the end is going to be a good thing. That could be part of it.”

When Bieber’s start before the All-Star break was rained out, maybe it seemed safe to assume that he’d open the second half of the season on the mound on Friday in Chicago to avoid having too many days off. But the decision to push him to the series finale at Guaranteed Rate Field depended on what the player’s schedules were during the All-Star break. And because Bieber had traveled back to California, the Guardians thought it was best to give him an extra couple of days.

“So [Cal] Quantrill had the ability to throw with somebody,” Francona said. “Triston [McKenzie] came in and threw on Tuesday at the ballpark. Biebs had traveled all the way across the country, I think, to get ready for the wedding and all that. We just thought, you know what, let’s not mess him up.”

Bieber hasn’t thrown many innings over the past three seasons. He went through the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season and then was injured for most of 2021. His 111 2/3 innings this year already eclipses the number of frames he threw in either of the past two seasons. So having some extra time to rest his arm isn’t the worst idea when you look at the big picture. But it certainly caused some rust, despite the fact that Bieber was able to stay on his throwing routine at home.

“Yeah, I was able to keep up,” Bieber said. “The arm felt good. … Like I said, it can be difficult but by no means is it an excuse.”

Bieber’s slider in those middle innings was effective, as he induced his third-highest number of whiffs on the offering this season (10). But the slider was also responsible for two of the three homers. It’s been the pitch that the Cleveland righty has relied on this season, as his heater lost another two miles per hour from last season. The biggest thing he was lacking was consistency.

“Some good and some bad,” Bieber said. “Just never really fell in rhythm and hung a couple pitches and maybe was a little too predictable.”

Prior to this start, Bieber reminded everyone that he still can be the ace of this staff, despite some of the hurdles he’s faced this season, by tossing a complete game on 95 pitches. However, he also demonstrated why there’s been more concern about his effectiveness this year on Sunday.

Maybe this will be just one hiccup for Bieber in the second half of the season, in which case it’s less concerning. Whether these types of performances become more frequent will determine if more alarms need to be set off.