CLEVELAND, Ohio — One intrasquad game is the same as another, right? Grind through five or six innings to get one day closer to opening day where you’ll be facing somebody else besides your teammates.
Tuesday night at Progressive Field the Indians played intrasquad game No. 6, but it was far from mundane. Shane Bieber was working against some of the best hitters on the Indians’ roster and he was upset that he wasn’t getting some calls. It made pitching coach Carl Willis happy.
The regular season opener is nine days away and Bieber is going to make that start against the Royals. If he’s creating some internal fire for that game, there’s nothing wrong with that said Willis.
“I told him, I was really excited,” said Willis. “He got a little bit upset tonight with maybe a few check swings that maybe weren’t called. We didn’t have an umpire at third base. He’s definitely competing and that’s important. But he was very fun to watch tonight.”
Tuesday’s split squad once again featured manager Terry Francona’s team vs. coach Mike Barnett’s team. Francona’s team used only seven hitters. Left fielder Agustine Rivero, the team interpreter, did not bat. It meant the lineup was turning over faster than normal and Bieber was seeing Cesar Hernandez, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Tyler Naquin — the top five hitters in the lineup — way too many times for his liking.
“I think where I was getting a little hot was, I was like, ‘Man, these are seven of the best hitters in the league,‘” said Bieber, “and we only had seven hitters in that lineup, so I was seeing them the fourth time through and it was the sixth inning. In an actual game, you’re generally struggling pretty hard if you’re facing them four times in the sixth inning. So I was like, ‘Man, I need every swing and miss I can get.’ So, yeah, that was funny.”
There were only three umpires working the game, which left third base unmanned, but Bieber didn’t need all that much help. He allowed one run on five hits in six innings. He struck out 10, including the last five batters, and walked two.
In the sixth, he struck out Hernandez, Ramirez and Lindor in order.
Willis said Bieber’s changeup, a pitch that at times has proved difficult for the right-hander, came into play in the last few innings.
“It seems like he faced Frankie and Jose every inning he went out there, and Carlos Santana,” said Willis. “We saw some check swings and swings and misses, even the last at-bat, with Lindor, after he fell behind in the count. So I think that’s a pitch he’s worked on tremendously, seen improvement. it’s going to be a big part of his repertoire here in 2020.”
This was Bieber’s second start of Spring Training II. He went five innings the first time out, but stumbled after opening the game with six straight outs. Tuesday, with the exception of Santana and Naquin hitting consecutive doubles in the fifth, there was no stumbling.
Willis felt the difference between the two starts was the changeup.
“I think tonight his changeup was really, really effective,” said Willis. “He’s been playing around with a little bit of a different grip, and all of a sudden, he’s starting to create a little more depth to that pitch. . .I think we’re seeing that really all come together right now.”
Barnett’s team used six relievers. Five of them did just fine, including James Karinchak who retired the side in order on strikeouts. On July 9, Karinchak walked four in one inning so he’s moving in the right direction. Karinchak, Hunter Wood, James Hoyt and Adam Cimber allowed one run in five combined innings. Anthony Gose was not as fortunate.
He started and ended the fifth with a strikeout. In between he walked two, allowed a single to Oscar Mercado single and a grand slam to Domingo Santana with the game tied, 1-1. Gose is a converted outfielder and the Indians love his arm. Tuesday night, his first pitch was 99 mph.
“He’s a tremendous athlete,” said Willis. “It’s really a matter of him continuing to learn to pitch and to learn his body and his body movements. When he attacks the strike zone, obviously we saw that the first pitch of his outing, was 99 mph.
“It’s a good fastball. It’s a power breaking ball that I think he needs to throw for strikes a little more often. But with his athletic ability, when you look at the brief period of time that he’s actually been pitching, I think that we’re gonna see that happen. It’s exciting to watch. It really is.”
Carlos Santana and Naquin had two hits each for Francona. Christian Arroyo drove in Barnett’s first run in the second with a single. Bobby Bradley scored after he doubled off the top of the left field wall with two out.
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