CLEVELAND – Shane Bieber's season is suddenly on pause, leaving the Indians to survive for a while without their ace.
The AL's reigning Cy Young winner won't throw for at least two weeks because of a right shoulder strain, an injury that will further test Cleveland's pitching depth and could send the Indians, who have been competitive for 2 1/2 months, into a tailspin.
After allowing a season-high in hits — and throwing 107 pitches over five innings — in a loss to Seattle on Sunday that dropped him to 7-4, Bieber underwent an MRI. It showed he has a subscapularis muscle strain in his right shoulder.
Manager Terry Francona said Bieber will be shelved for two weeks and then re-evaluated.
“We’re still obviously reaching out for more information and sending the images to different doctors and things like that, trying to get the best information we can,” Francona said. "So, for right now we know it’s no-throw for a couple of weeks.”
The Indians placed Bieber on the injured list for the first time in his career and recalled reliever Kyle Nelson from Triple-A Columbus.
In just his fourth season, Bieber has quickly developed into one of baseball's best pitchers. Last season, the right-hander led the majors in wins (8), ERA (1.63) and strikeouts (122) — a rare triple crown for pitchers.
Bieber's loss is a major blow to Cleveland, which has managed to stay in contention despite a rash of key injuries to starter Zach Plesac, slugger Franmil Reyes and Gold Glove catcher Roberto Pérez. The Indians will now have to make due without Bieber for at least a few weeks.
His velocity was lower on Sunday, but nothing overly alarming. Following the game, the 26-year-old Bieber reached out to the medical staff and “just wanted some peace of mind because he thought he could work through it,” Francona said.
Bieber has been averaging an MLB-high 105.3 pitches per outing, and it's possible that workload has contributed to the shoulder issue. Bieber threw a season-high 121 pitches against Chicago on May 11 and has thrown at least 95 in 14 starts.
Francona said Bieber had not complained any of problems before Sunday, but that doesn't mean he wasn't having them.
“Every pitcher that pitches, if you ask them, nobody goes out there feeling like they’re 18 anymore,” he said. "I think last night it got to a point, he reached out because I think he wanted some peace of mind. I think he felt like he was actually on a good trajectory. But again, fortunately he did get checked out and there was some swelling in there.
“So we need to slow him down, let this thing calm down.”
Not long after being put on the IL, Bieber walked onto the field in street clothes before the Indians took batting practice. He stopped and sat in the outfielder grass to speak with Pérez.
“He really wanted to go out and watch (Aaron) Civale’s side day,” Francona said. "That’s the kind of teammate he is. He’s never gone through anything before, so I think there’s some unknowns. Everything you’ve ever heard me say about him, that’s who he is.
"And I have no doubt he will knock this out of the park. He didn’t want to go on the IL. That’s the kind of teammate he is. We just said we want you to have a long, healthy career. And we don’t want him limping through it. That’s not fair to him.”
Francona said he's mindful of fatigue in all his players, and understands there may be times when players push themselves too hard.
“We play nine innings, if we play a doubleheader we will play seven,” he said. "Part of the reason, especially the really good players and pitchers are so good is that they’re able to sometimes finagle their way through. Finagle is not a very good word, but find a way to still be good when they’re not 100 percent.
“When that starts to get in the way, I think then you maybe have to give a guy a break. But I put Bieber in that class. He’s one of the very best in our game and I think there’s a reason for that," he said.
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