Another start, another advanced lesson for Tigers rookie Beau Brieske

Detroit News

Houston — Every start for rookie Beau Brieske these days is like a master’s seminar in pitching.

“It’s kind of like learning the recipe,” he said. “Learning what hitters at this level are trying to do to you.”

His third class was Friday night and it was conducted by the Houston Astros. The primary lesson — expect the unexpected. In his first two starts, neither the Rockies nor Dodgers were especially aggressive against his mid-90s fastball.

The Astros were hunting it right out of the gate.

“They came in with a good plan,” said Brieske, who gave up three runs on back-to-back home runs in the second inning of the Tigers’ 3-2 loss. “They were jumping my fastball, which surprised me a little bit because the last two outings I didn’t have guys being as aggressive on the heater. But the Astros were ambushing it.

“And I was babying my change-up early in the game. I started to get a better feel for it which allowed me to open up the rest of my arsenal.”

Brieske knew something was amiss in the first inning when Astros hitters fouled off 10 of his 24 pitches. To the hitters, it felt like they were just missing. Different interpretation for Brieske.

“What that tells me, it goes back to what I said about babying my change-up,” he said. “If I am finishing that pitch a little better, it’s going to be harder for them to stay on both the change-up and heater. But also, when I started doing that from the third inning on and landing my breaking balls — when you start landing breaking balls, that gives the hitter another thought which opens up my best two pitches (fastball and change-up).”

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Objective: Establish the breaking ball, either the curve or slider, early. Case in point:

With two outs in the second inning, Astros shortstop Jeremy Pena was credited with a double when his bloop to shallow left fell in front of left fielder Willi Castro. Brieske threw the next hitter, Chas McCormick, a well-located 95-mph fastball up and in.

And McCormick was all over it, crushed into the boxes in left center.

“It felt like it was a decent pitch, but maybe the wrong pitch,” Brieske said. “I have to start landing breaking balls in the zone. You have to make them respect it.”

Martin Maldonado followed with a solo home run to right field, also off a fastball. That one chapped Brieske.

“I threw him a first-pitch slider, swing and miss, good pitch,” he said. “Then I threw him another slider just off the plate and I had him leaning. Then I go heater away. If I go heater up and away, it works. He probably pops it up. If I go heater low and away, he probably rolls it over.

“But I went heater middle away and allowed him to get to it. That’s the mistakes you learn from. That’s the one that lost the game.”

Understand, Brieske pitched a strong game. If Pena’s blooper is correctly played, he’s out of the second inning in 12 pitches. He settled in and kept the Tigers in striking range. He has pitched at least five innings and allowed three runs or less in each of his first three big league starts.

The last Tiger to do that was Kyle Lobstein in 2014.

But every start is a fresh opportunity to learn and grow.

“I need to trust that what I have is good enough,” he said. “I just need to use it better. I need to execute it better. This is the first time I’m facing hitters at this level. The approach they have, the talent they have is something I need to adjust to.

“I held my own. I have held my own up here. But I also know I can be better. I just need to keep working.”

Twitter: @cmccosky

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