New York — Hard to believe now, but it wasn’t that long ago Tarik Skubal was standing where rookie right-hander Beau Brieske has found himself more than he would like — in a scrum of reporters, annoyed, trying to answer another question about home run balls.
Skubal gave up the third most home runs in the big leagues last season, 35. Brieske, who will face the Yankees in homer-friendly Yankee Stadium Saturday, has allowed 10 in 36 innings in his seven big-league starts.
The 2.5 homers per nine innings would be tops in baseball if he met the minimum inning requirement.
“I’ve been kind of waiting for you to ask me about this,” Skubal said before the game Friday.
So far this season, Skubal has slayed his home-run demons. He’s allowed two in 58.2 innings. His .307 home runs per nine innings rate is fourth lowest in baseball.
“For me, the adjustment was – I know I’m going to give up home runs. It’s just part of it,” Skubal said. “You’re throwing fastballs at the top of zone and guys that throw harder, guys are going to connect and run them out of the yard.
“But being less predictable has been a big part of it. Stop throwing as many fastballs in fastball counts. That’s why my slider and change-up have been such big pitches for me just to get back into counts and keep guys off the fastball. You have to protect the fastball a little bit.
“It’s just getting a little more confident in my stuff.”
Skubal was quick to say that he wasn’t trying to speak for Brieske. They are obviously two different types of pitchers – and not just because Skubal is a lefty and Brieske is a right-hander.
“With Skubal, his pitch usage has changed a lot,” manager AJ Hinch said. “Optimizing what pitches to throw to what hitters is key here. This isn’t a negative toward anybody else, but Tarik has plus pitches across the board. That’s a whole different animal.”
Brieske certainly understands that. At this time last year, he was pitching at High-A Lakeland. His ascension to the big leagues has been meteoric and it’s happened largely on the strength of his mid-90s fastball and above average change-up.
Where Skubal has always been able to throw a slider and a curve ball, Brieske still has those pitches under construction. And that plays a big role in why he’s getting so few chases, so few swings and misses and so many balls leaving the yard.
“It screams to continuing to work on his spin,” Hinch said. “The more he can learn to spin the ball and who to use it against, the better. And that’s not easy to do when you are pitching in the big leagues every five days. He’s gotten to this point very quickly and it’s been predominantly with a fastball and change-up.
“But to be a starting pitcher at this level, spin is key. We hope he can continue to nudge that forward.”
Brieske has talked about that repeatedly. When he established either a slider or a curve, preferably both, everything falls into place. It just hasn’t happened as consistently as it needs to yet.
“As I get more innings and experience, I’m going to learn myself a little more and I’m going to learn how to stay off the barrel a little bit more,” Brieske said. “The solo shot doesn’t beat you usually. It’s being tentative and not throwing a pitch with full conviction and then giving up a homer – that’s when you’re really frustrated with yourself.”
Throwing every pitch with conviction and trust, that’s been Skubal’s mantra this year, too.
“Every pitch I throw, if I throw 100 pitches – some pitches, just mentally, you’re not going to be as locked in for, for whatever reason,” Skubal said. “But if I can throw like 80 of the 100 with full conviction and full intent, then go 90 of 100, 95 of 100, if I can keep pushing that threshold, that’s going to bring better results.”
More importantly, if you do that, you can lay your head on the pillow and rest peacefully afterward.
“Yeah, even if you don’t get the results,” Skubal said. “If I can say I threw every pitch with full conviction, with everything I had, and even if things didn’t go my way, I can live with that. I can’t live with, Oh, I babied that change-up, or I tried to place that fastball instead of just throwing it, or I got behind 3-0 and threw something over the plate – that’s how I judge my outings.
“I think that’s the same thing Beau is doing. When you get called up to the big leagues, it’s different. But I’m not worried. I don’t think it’s much of a concern. He’s got plenty good stuff. He’s plenty confident in his ability to throw strikes. Just let him go pitch by pitch and execute.”
Baddoo to West Michigan
Outfielder Akil Baddoo (oblique) will begin a rehab assignment at High-A West Michigan this weekend. He’s only played in two games since the Tigers optioned him to Toledo May 9.
“His speed, his energy, his vibe, Akil brings so much to a team,” Hinch said. “The motivation to send him down was for a short period of time, a 10-day to two-week tune-up. And it’s turned into a month, month-plus injury.”
Baddoo technically is on a rehab assignment from Triple-A to High-A. He will eventually work his way back to Toledo before he becomes an option for the Tigers.
“His success moving forward is going to be about the quality of at-bat,” Hinch said. “One of the things that was so appealing about him last year was how tough an at-bat he was. He’d concede some power to have a better two-strike approach and to be electrifying on the bases. That all encompasses better at-bats.”
Tigers reliever Jason Foley grew up in North Bellmore, N.Y., about 27 miles from the Bronx. His Major-League per diem wasn’t going to cover all the ticket requests he received.
“I got a bunch of tickets for my family, but I told my friends, ‘You are on your own for this one,’” he said, laughing. “I’d be net-negative, net-red for the weekend.”
Growing up, Foley attended games at both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field.
“I lived closer to Citi Field, but I grew up a Yankees fan,” he said. “Most of my family members are Yankee fans. Coming here so much as a kid, it’s pretty cool to he here right now. Such a storied and decorated franchise. It’s super cool to be able to play in this stadium.”
Around the horn
…Robbie Grossman had almost full range of motion back in his neck Friday and felt well enough to take batting practice and resume baseball related activity. The tentative plan, as long as he has no setbacks, is play rehab games for Toledo Tuesday and Wednesday and then be activated on Thursday.
…Outfielder Austin Meadows (vertigo) will resume his rehab assignment for Toledo Saturday and Sunday. The hope is he can join the Tigers in Pittsburgh next week.
…Right-handed starter Matt Manning (shoulder, biceps) is scheduled to be examined by a specialist on Monday.
Tigers at Yankees
When: 1:10 p.m., Saturday, Yankee Stadium, New York
TV/radio: BSD/MLB Network/97.1.
RHP Beau Brieske (0-4, 5.25), Tigers: The path to his elusive first big-league win is charted, but it’s not easy, especially facing the potent Yankees offense in the favorable confines of the Bronx. Brieske’s fastball and change-up play, but he needs to stay out of hitter’s counts more often and establish at least one of his breaking balls, the curve or the slider. The 10 homers he’s allowed in 36 innings seems excessive, as well.
RHP Luis Severino (3-1, 3.38), Yankees: From 2019 through 2021 he pitched in seven games and had Tommy John surgery. But he’s back in full force. This will be his 10th start and he’s already beaten the Tigers once, back on April 20. His four-seam fastball still has life (96 mph) but he generates a lot of swing and miss with his change-up, slider and cutter. His change-up and cutter are both firm, 89-90 mph, both look the same out of the hand, then they move in different directions. Not fair.