Catcher Kevin Plawecki hasn’t worked with Shane Bieber much, yet his respect for the young Cleveland Indians pitcher grows with each outing.
Bieber didn’t have the neatest effort on Tuesday, but he came out on top as Cleveland beat the Seattle Mariners 4-2.
It wasn’t pretty. In fact, Bieber gave up three walks for just the second time in 22 career starts for the Indians. But, he struck out five and scattered four hits in six innings, shaking off several tough situations to improve to 9-0 in his first 12 career road starts.
“You just see his demeanor never changes in any situation,” Plawecki said. “He’s able to keep his composure and make pitches when he needs to. That’s why I say it seems like he’s been doing it for a long time.”
Bieber (2-0) and three relievers combined to hold the heavy-hitting Mariners to just six hits, though Jay Bruce was able to lift a solo home run to right-center field to extend Seattle’s major league record string of games with a home run to start the season to 20 games. That homer made Seattle just the 10th team since 1908 with a 20-game home run streak.
Seattle now has 42 home runs, yet is mired in a five-game losing streak after a stretch of six straight wins that once had the Mariners atop the standings.
Bieber worked out of trouble several times to keep the Mariners at one run for much of the game. His 13 straight road starts without a loss to start his career is the third-longest streak in the major leagues since 2000. It didn’t come easy, though.
His first major mistake was quickly followed by his second and a third when he walked Tim Beckham with two outs in the second. He then moved the shortstop to third when Plawecki lost view of a wild pitch that dribbled about 15 feet away from the plate. Then he gave up a second walk to Ryon Healy, and allowed Tom Murphy to bring in Beckham with a single.
From there, Bieber worked out of trouble in the first of five different innings in which the Mariners had runners in scoring position. He got Dee Gordon to hit a weak grounder with two on after Beckham’s score in the second. In the fourth, he struck out Murphy with a runner on second.
He issued his third walk to Gordon to start the fifth and faced a scoring threat again when Mallex Smith followed with a single. But Plawecki threw out Gordon as he attempted to steal third base and Bieber struck out Domingo Santiago to end the inning. And he got Healy to fly out with Beckham at second in the sixth, his final full inning.
Bieber was pulled in the seventh after allowing a double to Murphy, but relievers Oliver Perez and Neil Ramirez ended the threat with a pop out behind second and a strikeout, respectively.
“I don’t think it was his best command, but man he battled,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “Shoot, in the one inning (the second), he walked two and almost walked a third. I don’t think he’s ever done that in his career, but he battled and gave us a chance to win.”
Mariners manager Scott Servais pulled starter Mike Leake (2-1) after the sixth. He gave up eight hits, struck out four and walked none in a ground ball-inducing effort that was quiet, but effective.
Leake got double plays in the first and third to keep the Indians scoreless. He appeared headed for a third double play when a diving Gordon gathered in Jason Kipnis’ ground ball behind second, then flipped it out of his glove to Beckham, who forced out lead runner Jose Ramirez. But the ball slipped out of Beckham’s glove on the transfer, allowing Carlos Santana to reach first on the fielder’s choice.
Hanley Ramirez sent the next pitch into left field to make it 2-1.
The Indians jumped on reliever Roenis Elias to put the close game away. Elias gave up a leadoff single to Tyler Naquin in the seventh, then moved him to second with a one-out balk. Mike Freeman brought him home with an RBI single and was replaced by pinch runner Max Moroff, who scored on Leonys Martin’s double, making it 4-1.
“The tack-on runs have hurt here in this homestand,” Servais said. “We’ve been in a lot of these games, (then) go to the bullpen and you need that couple of shut-down innings and hope your offense can come back. And teams have tacked on a run here or there and it’s been a little tougher.”
Francona met with Hanley Ramirez and his legion of outfielders this week to ensure everybody’s up to speed on playing time possibilities. “Basically four out of six can play,” Francona said. “I said, ‘I have an obligation to not let anybody sit very long and to keep guys productive. . So there’s going to be days where you might sit where you’d normally take for granted that you would play.’”
Cleveland called up infielder Mike Freeman from Triple-A Columbus and put him in Tuesday’s lineup, optioning struggling infielder Eric Stamets. Freeman, an offseason acquisition, was slowed in spring training while recovering from the knee surgery he had last year and finally seemed ready after starting the season in Tacoma. “He’s going to play short tonight,” Francona said. “That’s not his best position, we know that. He’s played second, he’s played center. This is a kid when healthy, he can play anywhere, so he can be valuable.” Stamets had a batting average of .049 in 14 games this season.
Indians: RHP Carlos Carrasco (1-2, 12.60) looks to rebound from his shortest start since 2016 after giving up six runs in just two-thirds of an inning in an April 12 loss to Kansas City.
Mariners: RHP Erik Swanson (0-0, 9.00) makes his first start of the season after replacing injured No. 4 starter Wade LeBlanc on the major league roster.