Houston — You wonder if facing the Houston Astros Friday night, a team with the most wins in baseball over the last five-plus seasons, a team that’s made the playoffs five straight years, might be somewhat of a letdown for Tigers rookie Beau Brieske.
After all, his first two starts were humdingers – debuting on the day Miguel Cabrera whacked career hit No. 3,000 and following up last Saturday dueling with Clayton Kershaw, one his pitching heroes, at Dodgers Stadium.
Hard to top those for adrenalin rushes for sure, but if you’ve watched those two starts, you know Brieske has no shortage of competitive fire.
“I just love that he’s into the competition,” manager AJ Hinch said. “It looks like he takes the competition personally between him and the hitter. That’s a throw-back approach. You know, he’s got good spin rates but I never hear him talking about spin. He’s got four pitches but he still talks about executing to the right part of the strike zone and he’s not obsessed with percentage of usage.
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“He’s got some new-school and some old-school. But when he gets the ball in his hand, he’s got that competitive it-factor. I’m just going to give you my best stuff and if my best stuff is good enough, great. If not, I will work on being better.”
Brieske’s fighting spirit was encapsulated in an epic, 14-pitch battle with Dodgers’ Justin Turner leading off the fourth inning in a 1-1 game last Saturday.
“It was the biggest challenge he had to date and he didn’t back down,” Hinch said. “That demeanor and that confidence showed through in his performance.”
With the count full, Turner fouled off eight straight pitches. Six of them were four-seam fastballs at 93 and 94 mph. Brieske mixed in two change-ups at 80 mph. Finally, on pitch 14, he got Turner out in front of a change-up and he flew out to center.
“Justin Turner can hit anybody and he was having a hard time centering him up,” Hinch said. “That was a good sign. And Beau knew exactly what the competition is between him and the hitter and it’s important that he continue to have that confidence to go challenge them.
“With Justin Turner at the plate, bad things can happen. He’s a dangerous hitter. So it says something for him to do that in a close game, in a game-on-the-line kind of at-bat.”
If you were to talk to Turner after that bat, he probably felt like he was on those fastballs, just missing. Sometimes fouling pitches straight back like he was is a good sign for a hitter. That did not matter to Brieske at that moment.
“The way I saw it, he pretty much knew what was coming and he wasn’t getting the barrel to it, so I needed to keep trusting I could keep pouring them in there,” Brieske said after that game. “I didn’t want to back down.”
Hall-of-Fame pitcher Jack Morris, who was the analyst on the Bally Sports Detroit broadcasts from Los Angeles, talked about that on the air. Sometimes, when pitchers are feeling it, they can attack even in the heart of the strike zone with impunity.
“When you have the ball in your hand and you are dictating tempo, dictating pitches, dictating aggressiveness, there has to be some level of bravado throwing the ball over the plate to a talented hitter,” Hinch said, taking up Morris’ point. “The more you do that and come away with success, whether it’s a foul ball or swing and miss, it builds toward the next pitch.
“He is getting a lot of feedback that his stuff is good enough and he knows that mistakes can get hit out of the ballpark.”
And the thing is, Brieske insists we haven’t seen his best stuff yet. That is an intriguing thought.