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Tanner Bibee shines in MLB debut as Guardians avoid sweep

He’s here and he’s perfect — close enough, anyway

Colorado Rockies v Cleveland Guardians Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images

Not every MLB pitching debut can be perfect, but sometimes they come pretty close.

Tanner Bibee’s today was about as close to perfection as the Guardians could hope for as the 24-year-old hurler struck out eight and didn’t walk a single batter in his 5.2 innings of work. With the help of 1.1 flawless innings from Eli Morgan and just enough oomph from the offense, the Guardians pulled out a 4-1 win over the Rockies and avoided an embarrassing home sweep.

Bibee did find himself on the receiving end of some hard hits toward the end of his outing as his velocity sat closer to 95 rather than the 98 he was pumping early on, but that’s to be expected from a guy making just his 29th career start. Not his 29th MLB career start, mind you, but his 29th start in professional baseball at any level.

Through a mix of intentional design, bad weather, and the Guardians burning through every other option at the major-league level, Bibee was in effect fast-tracked from High-A at the start of last season all the way to his major-league debut today. And you would hardly be able to tell watching him out there.

Now, to be fair, Bibee didn’t have the composed, almost veteran-like presence on the mound that his fellow rookie, Logan Allen, had in his own debut Sunday. The two of them are fascinating counterparts in that way. Where Allen was a composed control master against the Marlins — striking batters out with precision, masterful deception, and pinpoint mechanics — Bibee was pure power out there today.

And with the kind of unleashed fury that a pitcher like Bibee displays on the mound, sometimes you’ll run into some mechanical issues. That’s the trade-off for throwing 98 with a slider and curveball that are whipped around the strike zone with reckless abandon. In today’s case, Bibee didn’t have total command of his four-seam fastball. Especially trying to get outs high, he just wasn’t able to get the ball into the zone and induce the kind of whiffs that play so well off his darting slider and massive looping curveball.

I say this not as a knock on Bibee, but as a tease of what’s to come. He looked unhittable at times today — including five straight strikeouts at one point — without one of his best pitches doing what he wanted it to. Eventually, he’s going to get more comfortable and locked in with the high-90s heater. At that point, his ceiling is into the stratosphere.

When he can do things like this more often, there is no stopping him:

Doing so is easier said than done, of course, but not every pitcher has the potential to do this to multiple hitters every game. Bibee does.

With all of that said, Bibee was sensational today. There is nothing more you can ask from a rookie making his first career start. He’s a pitcher made for highlight reels with high-90s velocity, those big breaking balls, and a changeup that vanishes away from lefties. He finished today with a game-high 11 swings and misses and 98.5 mph peak velocity. Thirteen of his 40 sliders also were called strikes — in other words, Rockies batters had no idea what was coming.

You’re going to see a lot more of Tanner Bibee in the coming days, weeks, months, and hopefully years. Most importantly, he’s sticking around after this start.

Bibee had to be that good to get the win today because, once again, the Guardians offense couldn’t seem to fully click into place. There were a lot of encouraging signs, at least, with 10 hits and four runs on the board. They were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and left nine runners on base, though. That includes a brutal ground ball double-play by Amed Rosario that was hit directly to an awaiting second baseman in the bottom of the fifth inning. He did single later on and stole a base, so it wasn’t a completely spoiled effort for Rosario. But that hit was emblematic of the offenses’ bad breaks lately; today was just a day where they pitched well enough to get around them.

José Ramírez, Josh Naylor, Andrés Giménez, and Oscar Gonzalez all had two hits apiece in the win, and Steven Kwan drew a pair of walks. That’s the kind of life the offense needs to start seeing more of. In addition to the walk, Kwan saw a game-high 28 pitches in his four plate appearances.

Naylor hit the game’s only home run to give the Guards a 2-0 lead in the first inning and almost got a second off of old friend (or enemy, who knows), Brad Hand. He worked a six-pitch at-bat against the left-handed Hand, and clearly timed up an inside four-seamer that he crushed but pulled foul. He also displayed some patience on outside pitches but totally whiffed on an outside slider for the third strike. It wasn’t a three-and-out or immediate pop-up, though — so more baby steps for his hopeful emergence against left-handed pitchers.

The Guardians’ win today should make tomorrow’s off-day a little more enjoyable. They’ll need the rest because they face the Red Sox, Yankees, and Twins over their next three series.