Chicago – He was just starting to figure it all out when he had to shut it down. That, as much as anything, is the agonizing part for rookie right-hander Beau Brieske.
“Definitely frustrating because I felt I was so close to being able to make it back,” Brieske said before the game Friday night. “I got through both of my rehab outings and then, just another setback.”
The 24-year-old Brieske has been one of the few rays of light in this dark season for the Tigers. For a 27th round pick to make it to the big leagues in his third pro season and have the success he did — well, he was a big feather in the cap for the scouting and player development staffs, to be sure.
Featuring a 94-mph four-seam fastball with above average ride (2,375 rpm spin rate), a sinker that he could paint on the inside corner to right-handed hitters, an elite changeup that limited left-handed hitters to a .145 batting average and a slider that improved incrementally through each of his 15 starts — he was a godsend to an injury-wracked rotation.
Then, after going six innings in Kansas City on July 12, he started to feel soreness in forearm. That morphed into biceps tendonitis and the Tigers went immediately into ultra-cautious mode. He was at 81.2 innings in the big leagues, 99 innings counting his work at Toledo.
The most he’s thrown in his young career was 106 last season when he jumped from High-A to Double-A. Where Brieske was in his workload and where the Tigers were in the season (lost), his innings were going to start being restricted even without injury.
Now with the injury, especially given how things have gone this year with Casey Mize (Tommy John surgery), Matt Manning (missing three-plus months with a shoulder injury) and now with Tarik Skubal shut down and visiting an elbow specialist Monday, the mission with Brieske is to maybe get him back for a couple more starts in September.
Which he wants, badly.
“That’s the plan we have,” he said. “Make sure we get whatever this is (in his arm) out, start feeling fresh and feeling strong, and go into the offseason feeling good. I want to be able to build on this year as opposed to recovering from it.”
The best news of all regarding Brieske is there is no structural damage in the arm.
“We made sure we tested every single thing we could test,” he said. “No structural damage. Everything was intact and looking really good. So the bright side of this whole thing is it’s minor in the grand scheme of things. I feel like I will be able to learn from it and get better from it.”
But, man, he was so close to being back. His last rehab start with Toledo was in Iowa on Aug. 5 and he was throwing bullets. His fastball was 97-98 mph. He struck out eight and allowed one hit in 4.1 innings, which he covered in 66 pitches.
Then a day later he went to throw a bullpen and, ugh, the same symptoms were back. The same discomfort.
“Definitely frustrating,” Brieske said. “I felt really sharp out there. To me that was a good sign knowing the things I’ve been working on this year definitely came together in that last outing. Everything felt in sync. Unfortunately, recovering from that, (the inflammation) is not totally out of there.
“It’s better to not try to push through, especially with the circumstances of this year. I want to be feeling good and come back even better for next year.”
Brieske and the Tigers’ training staff have been pouring over video and his biomechanical charts, examining his grips and his mechanics, trying to determine a root cause for this. Without going into specifics, he believes he has.
“It’s just knowing everything happens for a reason,” he said. “What I was doing previously that may have led to this, we’re trying to fix that and build from it. It’s a process and it’s unfortunate because I was super close to making it back. I really wanted to.”
He still can. At least for a couple of starts at the end of the year. That’s what driving him into the weight room every day.
“Haven’t been throwing yet,” he said. “Just basically listening to the training staff and trying to get in there every day to get the proper rehab. Just trying to get myself right, doing as much as I can to feel like I’m still building on stuff – whether it’s lower-half mechanics or whatever I can do.
“I just want to make sure that by the time I can start the throwing program again I will be ready to finish the rest of the year strong.”
This has always been Brieske’s process. Keep working, keep building, keep improving. Failures and setbacks are opportunities for growth, not impediments to success.
“I’m going to come back better, stronger,” he said.
There is no earthly reason to doubt him.