How Detroit Tigers’ Beau Brieske showed slider can be ‘game changer’ against MLB’s best

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers lost three straight games to the New York Yankees over the weekend at Yankee Stadium.

The series was mostly lopsided: Elvin Rodriguez tipped his pitches in Friday’s 13-0 loss, the Tigers’ offense went 21 innings without scoring a run, and defensive miscues led to Sunday’s 5-4 loss in extra innings.

But in Saturday’s 3-0 loss, right-hander Beau Brieske allowed two runs on three hits and one walk across six innings with a career-high seven strikeouts against the best team in baseball. The 24-year-old, a former 27th-round draft pick, did so by throwing 28 sliders — or 34% of his pitch usage — for a 39% CSW (Called Strike Plus Whiff) rate.

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That was a positive development.

“It’s like having an extra tool in your bag,” Brieske said, “especially when you are throwing it for strikes. They have to respect it and can’t really guess what’s coming. Having the slider allowed me to throw heaters in counts where they took it because they were not expecting it. I think it opened up a lot for me.”

The Yankees greeted him with a lead-off home run from Aaron Judge on Brieske’s first pitch of the game, a 95.3 mph four-seam fastball in the strike zone. The solo shot was chalked up to both players trying to be aggressive: Brieske in the strike zone; Judge swinging away for his 21st homer.

The home-run ball has plagued Brieske in his rookie season, allowing 12 homers across 42 innings in eight starts. He averages 2.6 home runs per nine innings, more than left-hander Tarik Skubal’s 2.1 homers per nine during his rookie campaign in 2021.

This season, Skubal averages 0.3 homers per nine in his 10 starts.

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Skubal, who boasts above-average pitches across the board, needed to master his pitch mix and pitch execution, and while those are important topics for Brieske (and any young pitcher), the latter must continue developing his slider.

“Some days you feel like you have it,” Brieske said. “And then when you go out there, the adrenaline gets to you, you start overthrowing, and that’s when it’s backing up or you’re spiking it. It’s really just staying within yourself.

“Everything’s a little bit better when you’re calm and relaxed, so it’s really just taking that and trying to apply it in a game. I know that I have it, but it was a matter of when I could actually bring it out and use it when I wanted to.”

In eight starts, Brieske has a 4.93 ERA with 15 walks and 29 strikeouts over 42 innings. Three of those starts were against elite teams: the Los Angeles Dodgers (one run in five innings), Houston Astros (three runs in five innings) and Yankees (two runs in six innings).

In 2022, Brieske has thrown just 17.7% sliders.

He relies heavily on his 94.2 mph four-seam fastball (52.3%) and changeup (22.9%), also mixing in his curveball and a new two-seam fastball. Although Brieske’s changeup is dominant, he uses this pitch more often against left-handed hitters.

His slider, a work-in-progress pitch, is his primary secondary pitch against right-handed hitters. When he doesn’t have his feel for his slider, righties zero-in on his four-seam fastball.

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Against the Yankees, though, Brieske had three pitches working: fastball, slider and changeup. He generated four swings and misses with his fastball and three each with his slider and changeup.

His slider led the way with a 37.5% swing-and-miss rate and eight of his 16 called strikes.

“It made a huge difference,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Being able to spin it is a game changer. If you’re going to last two or three times through the lineup against elite teams, that’s how you want to pitch.”

In the sixth inning, Anthony Rizzo tagged Brieske’s first-pitch slider for a two-out solo home run. Brieske bounced back by striking out Giancarlo Stanton with a slider to end his outing.

Brieske also threw six two-seamers in Saturday’s outing.

His best two-seamer struck out Isiah Kiner-Falefa swinging to conclude an eight-pitch battle for the first out in the fifth inning.

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“When you’re working on a new pitch, you want to pick your spots to where it’s not going to hurt you, but you need to build confidence with it before you really start to add it into your arsenal. … I was happy with the action it had, a lot different than the four-seam.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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