LAKELAND, Fla. — Right-hander Beau Brieske, a former 27th-round pick who defied the odds to start 15 games in the big leagues last season, sees an opportunity to further his development with the Detroit Tigers in 2023.
It doesn’t matter.
“I feel like I’m adaptable,” Brieske said. “It’s good for me to be able to open myself up to any role that they see fit, and I think I’ll learn from it either way. I’m preparing to be the best version of myself, and I see the best version of myself as a starter. I’m going to prepare that way.”
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Brieske is preparing to be a starting pitcher.
But the 24-year-old, who turns 25 in early April, also knows the reality of his situation. The Tigers already have five starting pitchers: Eduardo Rodriguez, Spencer Turnbull, Matthew Boyd, Matt Manning and Michael Lorenzen. They also have Joey Wentz, who looked sharp in September and could be the next man up. At some point, Tarik Skubal (flexor tendon surgery) is expected to return from the injured list. Don’t forget about prospect Wilmer Flores, either. If all goes as planned, he will make his MLB debut this season.
The Tigers used 17 starters last season, and this time around, they’ve assembled what seems like enough depth to do the same if necessary. Brieske could wait his turn in Triple-A Toledo, or he could join the Tigers’ bullpen on the Opening Day roster.
That’s for the Tigers to decide.
“I’m open to being a long guy, leverage guy, one inning, two innings, three innings,” Brieske said. “I feel like I can get better from any role that I have. Whatever I can do to help the team is the right goal for me this year.”
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In 2022, Brieske posted a 4.19 ERA with 25 walks and 54 strikeouts in 81⅔ innings across 15 starts. Opposing teams scored 19 of their 39 runs against him through the first two innings. Still, he battled through his struggles early in games and found a way to pitch into the fifth inning in 13 of his 15 outings.
His on-field development came to a screeching halt coming out of the All-Star break. The Tigers placed him on the injured list with a right forearm strain. At first, Brieske downplayed the injury as “normal fatigue,” but the health of his right arm never improved. Eventually, the Tigers shut him down for the remainder of the season.
He hoped to return in late September or early October.
He just wanted one more start.
That never happened.
“Looking back, I would have rushed it,” Brieske said. “I wanted to come back and pitch to give myself the peace of mind that I was healthy. But I think being shut down and having a full offseason to get myself actually right was the best move. I was probably underselling the severity of it because I wanted to throw so badly.”
Brieske, a 27th-rounder in the 2019 draft out of Division II Colorado State-Pueblo, wanted to pitch because he was living out his dream.
He earned an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues because of his performance in the minor leagues, despite signing for a lowly $75,000 bonus, despite losing his 2020 campaign to the COVID-19 pandemic and despite spending most of his life as an overlooked pitcher.
“And I felt like I was making good progress,” Brieske said. “I was learning myself in how I was adjusting, so I started throwing better in the second half of the time I was up there. In that regard, I wanted to come back.”
Through his first seven games, Brieske had a 5.25 ERA with 14 walks and 22 strikeouts in 36 innings. Through his final eight games, he had a 3.35 ERA with 11 walks and 32 strikeouts in 45⅔ innings. He pitched into the sixth inning in six of those eight games.
In June, Brieske started trusting his slider.
His best weapons, his fastball and changeup, were enough to survive, but once his slider became consistent, he began to thrive. To beat right-handed hitters, he needed his slider to be an active member of his arsenal. His changeup, however, has always been a steady weapon against left-handed hitters.
By the end of the season, he threw five pitches: four-seam fastball, changeup, slider, sinker and curveball. His fastball averaged 94.3 mph.
“My third and fourth pitches — my breaking balls — were not to the level that I wanted them,” Brieske said. “My best games last year were when I was coming with a four-pitch mix. (When I had my slider), that was when I had my best outings. I know it’s in there.”
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Brieske hasn’t pitched in a professional game since August 2022.
“In the offseason, I attacked some things with my (pitch) shapes to make sure everything is taking a step forward. That’s the focus I have. Right now, it’s bringing it all in and making sure I’m executing at the level I know I can.”
He will face batters in live batting practice on the back fields at some point this week, which leads into spring training games. The Tigers, with five healthy starters, play their first spring training game Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland.
In Brieske’s last spring training game, he pitched two scoreless innings out of the bullpen with one walk and four strikeouts against the Pittsburgh Pirates at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Florida. It also marked the last time he severed as a reliever.
“I got sent down the next day, which was funny because I threw well,” Brieske said. “Adjusting to that is different. You don’t have the same preparation as a starter. Being able to get yourself constantly ready is the name of the game. I would probably talk to other guys that have been doing it for longer than I have to find my formula.”
The Tigers are interested to see how Brieske performs, and what his metrics look like, coming out of the bullpen. Manager A.J. Hinch will utilize him in a reliever role at some point during spring training, likely right out of the gate.
Regardless of what happens after that, whether Brieske makes the Opening Day roster as a reliever or ends up in Triple-A Toledo as a starter, he undoubtedly has two polished weapons — fastball and changeup — with a clear opportunity to improve.
There’s a lot to like about him.
“I know what I did last year was a good step,” Brieske said, “but it wasn’t anywhere close to what I can do.”
Contact Evan Petzold at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.