|Cleveland backs Bieber for opener vs. Kansas City|
The Cleveland Indians found themselves in unfamiliar territory last season after seeing their run of three straight American League Central titles come to a halt.
After stumbling in its bid for the playoffs for the first time since 2015, Cleveland looks to regain its footing on Friday when it begins its abbreviated, 60-game season against the visiting Kansas City Royals.
Cleveland still managed to post a 93-69 record in 2019 and won 12 of 19 meetings against the Royals, who finished in fourth place in the division after securing a 59-103 mark.
The Indians will hand the ball to right-hander Shane Bieber for Opening Day. The decision likely was made easier after the team shipped two-time AL Cy Young Award recipient Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers in December in exchange for outfielder Delino DeShields Jr., pitching prospect Emmanuel Clase and cash considerations.
Bieber, 25, posted a 15-8 record with a 3.28 ERA in 34 appearances (33 starts) last season. The 2019 All-Star Game MVP owns a 3-0 record against Kansas City despite sporting a 5.22 ERA while allowing the Royals to bat a robust .296 against him in five career starts.
"I feel like we managed not only my buildup, but pretty much everybody's buildup really well over here, and I feel like as a team, we're definitely ready to rock," Bieber said this week. "On a personal level, yeah, I'm stoked for Opening Day. I'm ready to go."
Beyond Kluber's departure, more changes could be coming to the Cleveland franchise. The team said Thursday it is working with Native American groups on a potential name change.
On the field, Francisco Lindor's status as the face of the franchise could be on borrowed time, with the Indians reportedly examining their options with the All-Star shortstop. He is under contract through 2021.
Lindor, 26, ravaged the Royals last season by batting .392 (29-for-74) with five homers, 11 RBIs and 16 runs scored in 16 meetings. He also has done his fair share of damage against Kansas City's Opening Day starter Danny Duffy, going 7-for-24 with two homers and five RBIs.
Carlos Santana is batting .444 (16-for-36) with three homers and eight RBIs versus the left-hander.
"We're ready," Santana said Wednesday. "We've been working hard during the last three weeks. I'm ready to roll."
Duffy will make his third career Opening Day start on Friday. The 31-year-old posted a 7-6 record with a 4.34 ERA in 23 starts last season.
Duffy fell to 3-11 with a 5.48 ERA in 21 career appearances (17 starts) against the Indians after splitting a pair of decisions last season.
The Royals look to respond to back-to-back 100-loss seasons and right the ship under first-year manager Mike Matheny, who takes the reins from the retired Ned Yost.
"We all know how quick this season's going to be," Matheny said. "... It's something that we have a lot of urgency on, and hopefully what we can learn from this season, we can take into the next time we play 162."
A healthy All-Star catcher Salvador Perez, free-agent acquisition Maikel Franco, consistent Whit Merrifield and budding star Adalberto Mondesi bolster a potent lineup in Kansas City.
Hunter Dozier will not be in the lineup after he tested positive for coronavirus and was placed on the injured list.
"I'm disappointed to say the least," said Dozier, who enjoyed a breakout season in which he recorded 26 homers and 84 RBIs. "I have been hit with a couple of symptoms that go with the virus, so I need to follow our medical team's direction, get well and then work on getting back on the field.
"It's disheartening because I felt things were going well on the field, and I have a good feeling about the ball club we have."
--Field Level Media