CLEVELAND — From All-Star MVP to ace, and Shane Bieber is only getting better.
The 25-year-old passed Bob Gibson and Lon Warneke for most strikeouts without allowing a run on Opening Day in MLB history.
The 14 strikeouts also set a club record for Opening Day and were the most in the majors in an opener since Hall of Famer Randy Johnson also fanned 14 on March 31, 1996. Bieber was just one strikeout shy of the record for an opener held by Washington’s Camilo Pascual in 1960.
“When I say he makes the glass look half full, that would be the biggest understatement,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s really something.”
Bieber began last season as a No. 5 starter with plenty of potential. But the right-hander, who earned MVP honors in the All-Star Game at Cleveland’s Progressive Field in July, has become the heir apparent to two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, who was traded by Cleveland to the Texas Rangers in December.
Bieber isn’t shying away from being a leader.
“I’ve kind of been in that role and that spot a few times with other teams — back in college, back in high school and moving up the ranks with the Indians,” Bieber said. “It’s definitely something I embrace and look forward to.”
Francona said Bieber leads naturally.
“He’s doing it in a really good way where he’s not the loudest guy in the room, but he leads by example, the way he carries himself,” Francona said. “And you’re going to see him grow into a tremendous leader on that pitching staff.”
Bieber started slowly on Friday, hitting Whit Merrifield to open the game before settling in and finding his groove. Bieber struck out eight of nine during one stretch and sent more than one Royal back to the dugout shaking his head.
Bieber ran into his only trouble in the fifth. A pair of singles gave the Royals runners at second and third with two outs, but Bieber struck out Adalberto Mondesi to end the threat and punctuated the punchout with a fist pump.
Bieber was penciled in to start the Indians’ originally scheduled opener in March before the coronavirus pandemic shut down baseball. The break hardly bothered him.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.