I saw he's the ace. Now I'm a Belieber.
Among the most pleasant surprises during the baseball season's first week has been the performance of the Indians' starting rotation, and on Thursday Shane Bieber showed again why he was the Opening Day starter for the league's best staff.
Bieber was brilliant in a 2-0 victory over the division-rival Twins, blanking them for eight innings while striking out 13. The start came on the heels of an Opening Day gem against the Royals in which he fanned 14 over six shutout frames.
The strikeouts were not just notable for 2020 but in a historical context -- Bieber's 27 strikeouts set an American League record and tied the major league mark for whiffs through a pitcher's first two starts of a season, according to Elias.
"I made some adjustments over the past couple years and started to see more swing-and-miss," Bieber said after Thursday's masterpiece. “I think [Carlos Carrasco] said it the other day, ‘We like to strike guys out.’ That’s what we’re going for. Obviously, we’re trying to put up zeros and get the ‘W’ first and foremost, but if we can get some strikeouts while we’re at it, that’s always fun too.”
If the heights to which he's soared in his first two starts is surprising, it's at least not entirely unexpected after the 25-year-old broke out in 2019. Over 214 1/3 innings of work last year Bieber went 15-8 with a 3.28 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 259/40 K/BB ratio.
With visits to the Reds and White Sox on the schedule for next week, we'll know soon enough whether this two-start run was a magical-but-short-lived escapade or the start of something really special in Cleveland in 2020. In time, perhaps he'll make Beliebers of us all.
COVID Concerns Scrub Phils-Jays Series
The ripple effects of the Marlins' COVID-19 outbreak continued to be felt Thursday, and will be felt into the weekend as well.
The Phillies and Blue Jays, who had been set to play a series at Citizens Bank Park this weekend, postponed the meeting after two Phillies staff members tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days. One of the positive employees is a member of the coaching staff, and while no players tested positive in the wake of their matchup with the Marlins last weekend the league canceled the Jays series "out of an abundance of caution."
"Major League Baseball will coordinate with health experts and the Major League Baseball Players Association in planning for the Phillies' resumption of play, and will provide further scheduling updates as necessary," the league said in a statement.
The news of the Phillies and Jays having the weekend off brings the total to four teams that won't be in action until at least Monday, as the aforementioned Marlins and their scheduled weekend opponents, the Nationals, were already forgoing that series following the Marlins' outbreak. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported Thursday that another Marlins player recently tested positive for the virus, bringing their total number of positive cases to 17.
There's very little actionable advice to be given in this situation -- aside from, you know, bench your guys who won't be playing and start guys who will be playing instead -- but if there is something to be taken from the first real obstacle in the 2020 season it's that flexibility is more important than ever. The fantasy rosters that will survive and thrive in 2020 are ones that have the positional flexibility to overcome lost weekends and postponed series.
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If Bieber stole the show in the Indians' win Thursday, James Karinchak played a supporting role in the victory.
Karinchak pitched a perfect ninth inning to secure the 2-0 win, picking up his first MLB save in the process. The 24-year-old needed just six pitches to get the job done, throwing six strikes in the flawless frame.
He got the call after closer Brad Hand pitched in back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday -- and labored in Wednesday's contest, taking the loss while allowing three earned runs -- but Karinchak may be in line for a bigger role even with Hand available. Karinchak's fastball-curveball combination is electric and helped him post gaudy strikeout numbers as he rose through the Indians' system in recent years. If he's available in your league, snatch him up in hopes that he takes the reins sooner than later.
Karinchak wasn't the only one making news Thursday with his first save of the season. In Detroit, the Royals turned to Trevor Rosenthal -- not Greg Holland, not Ian Kennedy -- to close out a 5-3 win over the Tigers. Holland has the team's only other save and Kennedy was their closer to end 2019, but Rosenthal, who was a closer for -- you guessed it -- now-Royals manager Mike Matheny while the pair was in St. Louis is the better bet to get the next save chance than the other two.
If you're inclined to speculate on the Kansas City bullpen, Rosenthal could be gold. So, too, could Nationals reliever Daniel Hudson, who saved Thursday's win over the Blue Jays. Hudson, of course, was the Nationals' closer down the stretch in their 2019 World Series championship. Despite that, and despite his usage thus far, Hudson is rostered in just 35 percent of Yahoo leagues.
The last bit of news Thursday was less pleasant. Rangers closer Jose Leclerc was placed on the 45-day injured list with a Grade 2 teres major strain in his right shoulder, a move that while not ending his season at least guarantees he'll be out until early September at the earliest. The injury is the same as the one that ended Corey Kluber's season a few days ago.
In his stead, reliever Nick Goody earned the save in the Rangers' win over the Diamondbacks on Wednesday, placing him at the top of the list of potential candidates to take over the closer job. Goody feels less stable than either Karinchak, Hudson or Rosenthal but also has the clearest path to a job of those four. He's a worthwhile flier for those in need of saves.
National League Quick Hits: Clayton Kershaw (back) is in line to rejoin the Dodgers' rotation on Sunday versus the Diamondbacks or Monday versus the Padres. Walker Buehler is currently lined up to pitch Sunday, but the Dodgers could opt to give him an extra day of rest and slot Kershaw back in. Either way, the veteran left-hander is days away from making his season debut after having been scratched on Opening Day with back stiffness. ... Stephen Strasburg (hand) threw all of his pitches in a flat-ground session on Thursday. Strasburg is set to miss his second scheduled turn in the Nationals' starting rotation since coming down with a nerve issue in his right hand last week, but the 32-year-old has yet to be placed on the injured list and does seem to be making steady progress in these side workouts. Nationals manager Dave Martinez told reporters on Thursday afternoon that Strasburg isn't feeling the nerve discomfort anymore and just needs to be built back up for live competition. He figures to make his 2020 debut sometime in early August. ... Marcus Stroman (calf) is scheduled to face live hitters on Friday. It'll be the first such workout for Stroman since he landed on the injured list just before Opening Day because of a left calf tear. The 29-year-old right-hander is still unable to field his position, but he continues to progress with his throwing work and could be an option for the Mets' rotation sometime in mid-August. ... Diamondbacks purchased the contract of C/OF Daulton Varsho from their alternate training site. Manager Torey Lovullo says that Varsho will come off the bench for now, doing some catching and/or being used at all three outfield spots. He's an exciting talent worthy of a speculative add in deeper fantasy formats, but it wouldn't appear the playing time will be there initially. ... Anthony DeSclafani (pectoral) is set to make his 2020 debut on Saturday against the Tigers. DeSclafani was placed on the 10-day injured list just before Opening Day after suffering a mild right teres major muscle strain toward the end of summer camp. The 30-year-old right-hander registered a 3.89 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 167/49 K/BB ratio across 166 2/3 innings (31 starts) last season and is a worthy fantasy streaming candidate versus Detroit, even if he's not quite built up to go beyond four or five innings. ... Howie Kendrick (upper back) remained out of the Nationals' starting lineup Thursday versus the Blue Jays. Kendrick was scratched from the lineup on Wednesday, and it's notable that he never appeared as a pinch-hitter in either game since. Washington has the weekend off as part of the fallout from the Marlins' COVID-19 outbreak, so we might not see Kendrick again until next week. ... Eric Hosmer remained out of the Padres' lineup Thursday and was undergoing further tests to try to get a better handle on his stomach issues. Hosmer has been in and out of the lineup, having yet to play back-to-back games. The Padres have insisted that he's not dealing with COVID-19, but they will put him through more testing to see if they can figure out what's going on. ... Tony Gonsolin will start for the Dodgers on Friday against the Diamondbacks. It's not clear how stretched out Gonsolin is, but we wouldn't anticipate him going very deep into this one. It also might just be a spot start since Clayton Kershaw (back) is due back soon. Still, Gonsolin is talented enough to be worth a speculative add in fantasy leagues ... Braves sent RHP Mike Foltynewicz outright to their alternate training site. Foltynewicz was designated for assignment on Monday after surrendering six earned runs in just 3 1/3 innings in his regular season debut against the Rays. It's a bit surprising that he wasn't claimed on waivers by a new club, but his velocity is very much diminished and he is owed around $2.3 million in prorated salary for the remainder of this year. Folty will remain a member of the Atlanta organization for the time being. ... Giants activated 1B Brandon Belt from the 10-day injured list. Belt got a late start to the season because of a nagging heel injury, but he's good to go now. He walked three times in Thursday's loss to the Padres. ... Jeff Passan of ESPN reports that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have agreed to stage seven-inning doubleheaders starting Aug. 1. This rule will be for the 2020 season only. It's a way to move forward with a 60-game schedule without overworking pitchers; a worry even with the expanded rosters. Expect the Marlins and Phillies to have several of these doubleheaders after their games were canceled due to a breakout of the COVID-19 virus in Miami last weekend.
American League Quick Hits: Angels placed OF Mike Trout on the paternity list. Trout will be away while his wife gives birth to his first child. The due date for the baby is Monday, August 3. It is not known how long Trout will away from the team, but it's expected he'll miss several games. Kyle Keller was called up to replace Trout on the roster in a corresponding move. ... Rays manager Kevin Cash suggested Wednesday that Austin Meadows (COVID-19) could be activated during the team's next homestand. That homestand runs from August 4-9, so basically Meadows is on track to return at some point around the middle of next week. The 25-year-old rising star missed most of summer camp following a COVID-19 diagnosis, but he took four at-bats in a simulated game Tuesday in Port Charlotte and did more baseball activities on Wednesday. He's coming off a .922 OPS, 33 home runs, and 12 stolen bases over 138 games in 2019. ... Gleyber Torres left Wednesday's game with a right elbow contusion. Torres was plunked in the first inning, and while the shortstop was originally able to stay in the contest, he exited in the fourth. He's already undergone X-rays, which came back negative. Torres may be out for a day or two, but for now, it appears he's avoided a long-term injury. ... Royals LHP prospect Kris Bubic will be called up to make his major league debut Friday against the White Sox. It is rather shocking news, as Bubic has yet to throw a pitch above High-A ball, but this is going to continue to be a season of surprises. Bubic, the 40th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, posted a 2.23 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 185/42 K/BB ratio in 149 1/3 innings last summer between the South Atlantic League and the Carolina League. He definitely has tremendous arm talent, but the deep White Sox lineup presents a tough challenge. ... Bo Bichette (hamstring) was back in the Blue Jays' starting lineup on Thursday against the Nationals. He went 2-for-5 with a run scored in the contest ... Teoscar Hernandez stayed red-hot Thursday, popping a pair of solo home runs and adding a single in the Blue Jays' loss to the Nationals. Three days after going deep twice against the Nats, Hernandez did it again in this one. The victims this time were Erick Fedde and nasty reliever Tanner Rainey. Hernandez also has a couple stolen bases this season and he was caught trying to steal another one Thursday. His swing-and-miss tendencies will lead to rough patches, but Hernandez's power is legit and he should be rostered in all formats right now. ... Orioles activated LHP John Means from the 10-day injured list. He might have wished to come off the injured list against a different foe after the Yanks got to him for five runs over 2 1/3 innings before his night was through Thursday. ... Miguel Cabrera hit a pair of solo home runs in Thursday's loss to the Royals. School was in session in Thursday's first inning when the teacher, the veteran Cabrera, taught young Royals starter Brady Singer a lesson about what happens when you leave sliders high and over the plate, serving it over the right field wall for a solo shot. For an encore Miggy yanked an Ian Kennedy curveball over the left field wall to pull the Tigers to within two runs in the eighth. Though it seems impossible for one of the century's most accomplished hitters, the two-homer game was Cabrera's first since September 30, 2016. It's great to see him showing some pop - he's now got three homers in the season's first seven games -- even if it's ultimately part of a swan song for the 37-year-old. ... Jose Marmolejos hit a three-run home run, the first of his MLB career, in Thursday's win over the Angels. The 27-year-old accrued 840 minor league games before making his major league debut in 2020, so to say that Thursday's dinger - a three-run moonshot in the first inning off Angels starter Dylan Bundy - was long overdue would be an understatement. It was his only hit in three at-bats in the game and was his third hit in 21 at-bats this year, producing a .143/.143/.429 line in six games thus far. Regardless of how the rest of his season or career goes, it was surely one night Marmolejos won't soon forget.