Astros pitcher, Wayne State product Hunter Brown prepares for homecoming

Detroit News

Detroit — Hunter Brown is in the place where everything came together for him.

As Brown, a 24-year-old St. Clair Shores native and Wayne State University product playing with the Houston Astros prepares to make just the second MLB start of his career, imagine how surreal this all must be.

He’ll take the same mound that he watched his childhood idol and current teammate, Justin Verlander, command for years. Friends, family, former teammates — they’ll all be there in the second game of a three-game set in Detroit.

There’s nothing like your debut. But this? This is a pretty extraordinary set of circumstances in its own right, Brown said Monday.

“(Detroit) is where I started the dream of like, ‘I could be out there one day,'” Brown said. “It feels really good. Just really excited. I mean, you feel at home.”

The only thing that could make his return to Detroit better, Brown said, would be getting the chance to pitch to Miguel Cabrera. Alas, it looks like both Brown and Cabrera will have to stick around for another year if that’s gonna happen.

Cabrera, who’s dealing with a lingering bicep issue, was placed on the IL earlier this month.

“Those guys (Verlander and Cabera), Hall-of-Fame guys. Hopefully I get to face Miguel Cabrera in my career. I don’t know if it’s going to happen this series,” Brown said. “And then obviously, yeah, talking to Justin is awesome. … It’s more like, you’re ready to compete with him. I’m looking forward to him getting back on the field and having an opportunity to do that.”

Brown made his debut last Monday against the Texas Rangers. He threw six innings with no earned runs, three hits, a walk and five strikeouts after posting a 2.55 ERA in 23 appearances with the Triple-A Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

More: For Wayne State product Hunter Brown, ‘stuff is there’ for MLB shot

Despite the limited sample size, Tigers manager AJ Hinch, who was with the Astros when Houston drafted Brown, is absolutely aware of what he brings to the table.

“He brings a lot. I mean, I’ve seen him on video. I’ve heard a lot about him. … So pretty much power across the board and we’ll get a first look at him tomorrow,” Hinch said.

While talking about Brown, Hinch advocated for fans of all teams to support opposing players when they make their trips home.

“It doesn’t surprise me that he’s gonna have quite a following here tomorrow night. For a young kid — we just witnessed it with Joey Wentz in Kansas City — local fans should really acknowledge their own, you know, the kids that have grown up here, and for him, going to college here, too,” Hinch said.

Brown, who graduated from St. Clair Shores Lakeview, had just one Division 1 offer coming out of college (Eastern Michigan). He developed into a legitimate big-league prospect at Wayne State under head coach Ryan Kelley after a few years of struggles.

Brown posted ERAs above 4.00 in his first two years with Wayne State. His junior year in 2019, the year he was drafted in the fifth round by Houston, Brown posted a 2.21 ERA, 9-0 record and 12 strikeouts per nine.

“His freshman and sophomore year, he started getting some valuable experiences,” Kelley told The Detroit News. “Some were productive and some he had to go through the grind of adversity as a college pitcher.

“He never wavered from his work ethic and he kept pushing forward. Once his junior year was here, a lot of things came together and it was really special.”

Kelley said he plans to bring his Wayne State team, which last season set a program wins record, to the game on Tuesday. The Tigers are offering discounted tickets ($18) for Wayne State students during the Astros series.

Brown is the second Wayne State alumni who played under Kelley to make the big leagues alongside Anthony Bass, a 34-year-old reliever who’s posted a 1.45 ERA in 62 innings this season.

When Brown takes the field Tuesday, he won’t be representing the Tigers. But he sure as heck will be representing Detroit — and doing it better than most, Kelley said.

“I think ‘hard work’ when I think of Hunter Brown,” Kelley said.

“I think we try to emulate what Wayne State University and what the city has meant to the world of sport, obviously a lot of hard work, dedication, sacrifice, perseverance, and from what we know about Hunter Brown, that’s what he emulates and represents.”

Tigers vs. Astros

First pitch: 6:40 p.m. Tuesday, Comerica Park, Detroit

TV/radio: BSD/97.1

SCOUTING REPORT

► RHP Drew Hutchison (2-7, 4.08 ERA), Tigers: Hutchison is fresh off a pair of starts that resulted in wins without him getting the decision. After picking up his second win of the season against the Texas Rangers on Aug. 28, Hutchison threw 5.2 innings against the Royals on Sept. 2 (six hits, four runs, three earned, one walk, five strikeouts) and 4.0 against the Los Angeles Angels last week (five hits, two runs, two earned, two walks and three strikeouts).

RHP Hunter Brown (1-0, 0.00 ERA), Astros: Brown threw 79 pitches in over six innings of work in his MLB debut last week; only one of them was barreled by a Rangers bat. Expect a steady diet of fastballs from Brown, who threw heaters on 51.9% of his pitchers against Texas and otherwise featured his curveball (29.1-percent) and slider (15.2).

nbianchi@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @nolanbianchi

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