Starter? Reliever? Tigers’ Beau Brieske focused on getting outs, not his role

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Beau Brieske isn’t going to let whatever role he ends up playing this season define him.

He’s a pitcher, period.

“That’s the conversations we’ve had,” Brieske said Sunday, referencing his talks with Tigers’ pitching coach Chris Fetter and his staff. “No matter what situation you are in, you have to remember you are a pitcher first. Don’t put yourself in the mindset that this is a short-term stint. Approach it like you are a pitcher trying to get hitters out.”

That means no shortening of his repertoire. He only needed 19 pitches to get four outs against the Pirates last Thursday and he used all five of his pitches, including a four-seam fastball that averaged 97 mph.

“Don’t take anything off the table,” he said. “Throw your pitches. If you only need two pitches to get guys out like a normal at-bat, then use two. But if you need to give different looks to get through a lineup or an inning, use all your pitches.

“That’s what I have to remind myself.”

He limited big-league hitters to a .173 batting average with his changeup and a .133 average with his two-seam fastball. He also has a slider and an improving curveball. His four-seamer sat at 94 mph as a starter and his playing up to 97 in shorter bursts.

“I don’t want to pigeon-hole myself into like, I’m a one-inning guy so I will just be fastball-changeup or fastball-slider,” he said. “No. Use all your stuff, mix all your speeds, change your location and make sure that, hey, being a pitcher is going to help you get through these innings easier.”

Since coming back after missing the pandemic year in 2020, Brieske has made 40 starts, including 15 for the Tigers last season before being shut down with forearm soreness. He hasn’t worked out of the bullpen since rookie ball in 2019.

So far this camp, though, he’s been on more of a reliever track. He was brought into his last outing Thursday in mid-inning and worked 1.1 innings. He will work on short rest tomorrow, again out of the bullpen, though he’s expected to go three innings.

If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, right? He’s being used like a reliever.

“I just don’t want to look too much into it,” he said. “I just want to work. I feel like I can improve or get better in any role if I have that mindset of being a pitcher first. I don’t care if I’m coming out of the ‘pen, making starts, coming in for one inning or three or four innings — if I’m pitching out there, I’m getting better because I’m facing the best hitters and forcing myself to be sharp.”

Manager AJ Hinch hasn’t declared whether Brieske will be working out of the bullpen or, assuming the Tigers’ five projected starters stay healthy, build back up and start the season in the rotation at Triple-A Toledo.

But that declaration could be coming soon, for Brieske, for Garrett Hill and for Alex Faedo, all right-handers being considered for bullpen bridge roles.

“We need to pivot at any given moment,” Hinch said. “Beau is going to pitch in Baltimore (Sarasota) tomorrow. We’re hoping to get him three up-and-downs (innings) and simulate a volume day for him so we can continue to figure out what’s best.

“We will get him to that three-to-four inning stint probably about the time we either need to hover there and make a decision, or wait. We’re in no rush to make a decision on these guys.”

Brieske last faced big-league hitters on July 12. He made two rehab outings at Toledo, but didn’t pitch again after he struck out eight in four innings at Iowa on Aug. 5. He reported soreness again after that outing and was shut down.

Needless to say, he was fired up to get after it this spring. Maybe too much so.

“Honestly, the big thing is staying within myself and staying with my mechanics,” he said. “Staying within what I know I can do and not try to overdo things when I have hitters in the box and the adrenaline hits. That’s been the difference.

“In the bullpens, it’s probably the best I’ve ever thrown. It hasn’t quite blended into games the way I want it to. It just stems from being amped up in games.”

Odd to hear him say that. This is a guy who made his second pro start at Dodger Stadium, a guy who made starts at Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park — the great cathedrals in the game — and performed well.

“The best are able to calm themselves down and I do pitch calm,” he said. “I’m good at pitching calm. But, still, I’m also not going to deny that the adrenaline is there. Just getting back into games, it feels like I haven’t been in games in so long … I feel like I’m making some good progress.”

Twitter: @cmccosky

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