Former high school teammates duel into 8th as Major Leaguers

May 14th, 2023

CLEVELAND — Guardians starter Tanner Bibee laughed as he remembered himself as a sophomore in high school. He recalled his 5-foot-7 frame and knew that there was no way he had hit puberty yet. So, what would he say if he could go back in time and tell himself that one day he’d be pitching in the Majors against his former teammate Patrick Sandoval?

“I would say, ‘Dude, you’re crazy,'” Bibee said with an enormous grin.

It’s a story that any Little Leaguer or high school player would dream of telling. Two hurlers who were the one-two punch of the Mission Viejo (Calif.) High School rotation faced off in the Guardians’ 4-3 victory over the Angels at Progressive Field on Sunday afternoon.

“We talked after my start at Yankee Stadium [last week] and talked about, ‘Hey, if this lines up, we could pitch against each other,'” Bibee recalled. “I’m happy we won. But I’m happy we both did well.”

The two resembled the dominant pairing any high school team would dream of having. Bibee entered the eighth having given up just one hit. Sandoval had allowed only one run. It wasn’t until that frame that either of them ran into some trouble.

Bibee ended his fourth career start having allowed one run on two hits in 7 2/3 innings. Sandoval was charged with three runs (two earned) on five hits in a season-high 7 2/3 frames. And with their high school coach Chris Ashbach in the stands, it was difficult for this day not to bring back memories of their prep baseball days.

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Bibee was a sophomore and Sandoval was a senior when the two hurlers helped lead the Diablos to a California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) championship in 2015, before Sandoval was drafted by the Astros that June. Bibee finished his high school career and went on to nearby Cal State Fullerton to continue his development.

Sandoval, a 6-foot-3 lefty, was a more projectable pitcher in high school, as he spurned USC to sign with the Astros after being selected in the 11th round of the 2015 Draft. He was eventually acquired by his hometown Angels before the ’18 Trade Deadline in a trade that sent catcher Mart?n Maldonado to the Astros.

Bibee said he followed Sandoval’s pro career and even attended one of his Minor League starts with Single-A Inland Empire in 2018. Sandoval first reached the Majors in ’19, and he has developed into the Angels’ second-best pitcher behind two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani. He has a 3.22 ERA in eight starts this season after posting a 2.91 ERA in 27 outings in ’22.

“I went to one of those games, watched him and then he went through the Minors pretty quick,” Bibee said. “So, it was really fun to watch, and I kept up with him pretty religiously.”

But once Bibee was drafted by Cleveland in 2021, that communication became more frequent.

“Just talking about pro ball and stuff like that,” Sandoval said earlier this week. “He’ll ask me stuff about preparation and recovery. It’s cool to see someone grow into what he is now. It’s awesome.”

“It was necessary for me,” Bibee said. “It was kind of nice to be able to bounce questions off him, and he would bounce some questions off of me.”

The Bibee who Sandoval remembers was a shorter pitcher who threw 75 mph. What Sandoval watched on Sunday was a 6-foot-2 force on the rubber, who averaged 95.2 mph on his heater.

“I thought he’d be a really good college sign,” said Sandoval. “He was short and didn’t really have a projectable arm. He threw slow but just knew how to pitch. He just didn’t have the frame. And then puberty hit, and it hit him well. He’s a stud, obviously.”

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Bibee thought back to 2015 and remembered himself in the way Sandoval did. But Bibee also recalled watching Sandoval that year, taking in how electric the soon-to-be professional player was — a level he hadn’t unlocked just yet. But little did he know he was going to follow in Sandoval’s footsteps.

Bibee has since added tremendous velocity to his heater, now topping out at 99 mph. He flew through the Guardians’ Minor League system as the team’s No. 5 prospect, making just 28 starts over two seasons before reaching the big leagues. And on Sunday, he was able to outpitch his former teammate, the one he’s looked up to for nearly a decade, on baseball’s biggest stage.

“It was a proud moment for me,” Sandoval said. “It was cool, but it would’ve been nice to have seen him pitch like that against somebody else.”