GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Shane Bieber’s last name draws an immediate connection to a more famous global pop superstar, and playful teasing from his teammates.
As a rookie last season, Bieber often endured taunts about singer Justin Bieber — the other “Biebs.”
“They’d just get angry at me after I’m talking smack or whatever and say ‘All right, Justin,’” Bieber said with a laugh following a recent morning workout at training camp. “That’s kind of they’re go-to.”
Well, while the confident right-hander won’t match Justin Bieber’s commercial success or his number of Twitter followers or ever be the subject of endless Hollywood tabloid headlines, Cleveland’s Bieber is making a pretty good name for himself.
These days, the joking from his teammates has subsided.
A fourth-round pick in 2016, Bieber shot through the Indians farm system and became one of the team’s steadiest starters in just his third pro season. After beginning 2018 at Double-A Akron, he was promoted to Triple-A Columbus and wound up making 19 starts for the Indians, going 11-5 with a 4.55 ERA.
“He’s had a lot thrown at him in a hurry,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “You want guys to make adjustments and he did a lot of that on the fly last year. It was fun to watch.”
From the moment he arrived in the majors, Bieber looked like he belonged. In 20 games, he struck out 118 while allowing just 23 walks in 114 2/3 innings. Bieber’s 5.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranked among the top 10 in the league, behind All-Stars Justin Verlander, Chris Sale and teammate Corey Kluber.
Beyond his impressive statistics, the 23-year-old Bieber displayed a veteran’s composure, something he attributes to his development at the University of California-Santa Barbara.
“We were big on the mental side of the game,” said Bieber, who helped the Gauchos reach the 2016 College World Series. “And just being able to stay poised and confident, especially when things go wrong.”
One place he saw things go wrong during last season was through the later innings of games, particularly facing batters for the third and fourth times. Francona believes adjustments made to Bieber’s change-up — a pitch he used less than 4 percent of the time last season according to Statcast — will help.
“Not just for the third time through the order but when he falls behind a lefty, he got a little predictable,” Francona said. “He’s trying to find a grip (on the change-up) where he can soften it up a little bit.”
Bieber got off to a strong start in his spring exhibition debut Wednesday, retiring all six Milwaukee hitters he faced in Cleveland’s 6-1 win.
Over the past few weeks, Bieber has become more familiar with the Indians Player Development Complex. This is his first time spending all spring in a big league camp, an experience he was fully prepared for last year but never got the invite.
“Guys are kind of looking at me like it’s not my first,” said Bieber, who did enough last season to be added to the postseason roster. “They’re like, ‘Oh, shoot, it’s actually your first? Maybe I shouldn’t be asking you where to go,’ because I’m just trying to follow the crowd and not be too much of a greenie.”
He may still be learning the lay of the land in Arizona, but Bieber is very comfortable when it comes to helping the three-time reigning AL Central champions win. With an adjusted change now in his arsenal plus improved breaking balls, Bieber will be counted on as a vital fifth starter in one of baseball’s best rotations.
“He deserves to be where he is. He earned it,” Francona said. “We tell the young guys, you know, we don’t want you just to get called up, we want you to get called up and help us win. There’s a difference.”
And even a well-known last name won’t help.
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