Detroit native Hunter Brown returns to Comerica Park as Houston Astros starting pitcher

Detroit Free Press

Hunter Brown spent Monday afternoon playing catch at Comerica Park, the ballpark where he grew up attending games and cheering for the Detroit Tigers. Watching his hometown team inspired him to become a big leaguer one day.

On Tuesday, Brown will pitch against the Tigers.

“I’m excited to be here and be back and represent my hometown,” Brown said Monday in the visitor’s clubhouse, “but at the same time, I’m representing the name on the front of my jersey. That’s the Houston Astros.”

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The Astros selected Brown, who attended Lakeview High School in St. Clair Shores and Wayne State University in Detroit, in the fifth round of the 2019 draft. As a junior at Wayne State in 2019, Brown finished 9-0 with a 2.21 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 85⅓ innings.

The 6-foot-2 right-hander pitched in the major leagues for the first time Sept. 5, throwing six scoreless innings on three hits, one walk and five strikeouts against the Texas Rangers. He is the sixth Wayne State player to reach baseball’s highest level.

“I’ve seen him on video, and I’ve heard a lot about him,” said Tigers manager A.J. Hinch, the Astros’ skipper from 2015-19. “It doesn’t surprise me that he’s going to have quite a following here tomorrow night. We just witnessed it with Joey Wentz in Kansas City. Local fans should really acknowledge their own, the kids that have grown up here.”

His matchup with the Tigers — positioned after left-hander Framber Valdez and before right-hander Cristian Javier in the starting rotation — marks the second game of his MLB career. The 24-year-old isn’t sure how many of his family, friends, coaches and teachers are going to be in the stands at Comerica Park, but he is thankful for the support.

And he is focused on winning.

“I’m going to do my homework,” Brown said, “and I’m going to go out there and try my best to deliver a win for us.”

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The ascension of Brown to the Astros’ active roster and rotation came as a byproduct of Justin Verlander’s health and September call-ups. Verlander, who suffered a right calf injury, is eligible to return from the injured list Tuesday, and while he’s in Detroit for the three-game series, he isn’t going to pitch for the Astros until the weekend.

Brown grew up idolizing Verlander.

“It’s pretty cool to have someone make their debut that idolized me, but at the same time, I don’t want to sit here and talk about myself,” Verlander told reporters last week in Houston. “I think what he’s done and his trajectory, he’s turned himself into a great pitcher and his story is fantastic. That’s all a credit to him. Great kid.”

Verlander, of course, pitched 13 years for the Tigers, from 2005-2017, as part of his Hall of Fame-caliber career. Throughout that time, Brown attended Tigers games with his family, travel baseball teams and college friends. He also enjoyed the Red Wings, Pistons and Lions, as well as exploring downtown.

One draft and one lopsided trade later, Brown and Verlander are playing for the best team in the American League and chasing a World Series championship together. Verlander, a frontrunner for AL Cy Young, has a 16-3 record, 1.84 ERA and 154 strikeouts over 152 innings in 24 starts in his return from Tommy John surgery.

“It would be difficult to say that you dream of sitting in a locker room having a conversation with him,” Brown said. “It’s more like, you’re ready to compete with him. I’m looking forward to him getting back on the field.”

Before joining the Astros, Brown pitched 23 games (14 starts) for Triple-A Sugar Land. He had a 2.55 ERA with 45 walks and 134 strikeouts over 106 innings. In his MLB debut, Brown’s fastball averaged 96.1 mph. He also mixed in his curveball, slider and splitter.

Brown said he felt nervous for his debut, though he doesn’t anticipate having the same emotions for Tuesday’s start in Detroit. Family and friends might feel nervous, but those people have been in his corner all along, so there isn’t added pressure.

“I’m really excited,” he said. “I feel at home.”

Miguel Cabrera injury update

Designated hitter Miguel Cabrera, another Tigers icon who sparked Brown’s big-league dream, isn’t going to play against the Astros. He isn’t expected to play over the weekend, either, as he remains sidelined with a left biceps strain.

The 39-year-old landed on the injured list Sept. 3.

“He’s swinging today for the first time off the tee,” Hinch said. “He’s unlikely to be activated on this homestand, but if all goes well, he’ll continue to increase his volume and intensity on the tee, then he’ll move to flip, then he’ll move to BPs.”

Tyler Alexander gets ‘extended rest’

In his past four starts, left-hander Tyler Alexander has a 10.16 ERA with three walks and 11 strikeouts in 17 innings. Although Alexander hasn’t walked a ton of batters, his command inside the strike zone has faltered.

Opponents have a 1.155 OPS in those four games.

The Tigers have pushed back Alexander’s next start. He won’t pitch this weekend against the Chicago White Sox. Instead, he is penciled to start Sept. 19 against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.

“We’re going to push him back to the first game in Baltimore and give him a little bit of extended rest,” Hinch said. “We’ll give him two bullpens before his next start. We have the off day on Thursday to do that.”

Alexander will stay in the rotation for the rest of the season.

Jake Rogers won’t play in ’22

The Tigers initially wanted catcher Jake Rogers to serve as the designated hitter in Triple-A Toledo at some point this month. He underwent Tommy John surgery last September, and since his elbow isn’t ready to make athletic throws from all angles, the Tigers ruled him out of their big-league plans this season.

But the 27-year-old, acquired in the Verlander trade, has been swinging the bat for a while now, so the Tigers were going to give him at-bats in Toledo in preparation for the 2023 season. Now, the Triple-A plan isn’t happening.

Rogers won’t play competitively until 2023 spring training.

Luis Garcia from Phillies

The Tigers recently claimed middle infielder Luis Garcia off waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies. The 21-year-old, who turns 22 on Oct. 1, was assigned to Double-A Erie for the remainder of the season.

The 40-man roster is full.

Garcia — a developmental project for the Tigers — signed with the Phillies out of the Dominican Republic for a $2.5 million signing bonus in July 2017, the fifth-highest bonus in that year’s international signing period. He is hitting .161 with three home runs, 41 walks and 65 strikeouts in 58 games in the minor leagues this season.

He has played nine games at the Double-A level.

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