Both Shane Bieber and Jose Berrios are talented young righthanders. Both were All-Stars last season and are the unquestioned leaders of their respective rotations.
But on a pleasant Thursday evening during a matchup of two teams expected to battle it out for AL Central supremacy, Bieber stood out as Cleveland downed the Twins 2-0 in the first game of a four-game series between the rivals at Target Field.
After striking out 14 batters on Opening Day against the Royals, Bieber moved up in weight class, took on the Bombasquad and punched just as hard.
Over eight innings, Bieber shut out the Twins on three hits, walked none and struck out 13.
“I don’t think we figured him out,” Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson said. “I feel like he did a great job. On a scouting scale of 20-80, that was like 70 command tonight with the heater.”
With 27 strikeouts in his first two starts, Bieber tied a major league record set by Karl Spooner in 1954. In a short season, Bieber’s dominance is a reminder to the Twins how tough Cleveland can be. The Indians won last year’s season series 10-9 and now have landed the first blow in the first of 10 games between the clubs this season.
Berrios was outgunned in this matchup, falling behind hitters and running his pitch count up to 96 over five innings.
Signs of trouble flashed for Berrios in the second inning, when he needed 27 pitches to get three outs. That inning included a wild pitch that allowed Franmil Reyes to advance to second and a pitch that plunked Domingo Santana on the wrist.
Berrios’ wildness caught up with him in the third. He got the first two outs of the inning before giving up a single to Jose Ramirez. Lindor fouled off consecutive pitches before Berrios tried to challenge him with a fastball and lost. The 409-foot drive easily cleared the right field wall.
Puerto Rico’s best hitter topped Puerto Rico’s best pitcher.
“That was my fault,” Berrios said. “We wanted to try and go up [in the strike zone], where we normally do, but I left the fastball right below the line. He got me. I need to tip my hat and keep going.”
Bieber made the 2-0 deficit the Twins faced look even bigger. His fastball command was excellent, as he was able to take advantage of a pitcher-friendly strike zone. Then his knuckle curveball forced swings and misses. His slider neutralized lefthanded hitters.
“He was definitely on top of his game,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I think anyone paying any attention can see that. He was very sharp. He’s one of the best young pitchers in the game.”
The Twins’ best scoring chance came in the sixth when Byron Buxton and Max Kepler hit consecutive singles to bring Donaldson to the plate. Donaldson fell behind 0-2 but worked the count full before fouling off a pitch. Bieber then fed him his knuckle curve and Donaldson nearly dropped to one knee while striking out. Jorge Polanco flied out to end the inning.
The Twins never had a hit after that, going nine up, nine down.
“He’s had two starts so far this season, so I’m not trying to give him the Cy Young right now,” Donaldson said of Bieber. “At the end of the day, in those two starts, his command has been very good. As I said, elite command with every pitch that he has and he really did a great job of executing. I’m looking forward to the challenge the next time it happens.”