The right-hander, who flashed potential as a starting pitcher last season, has been on the shelf a couple times in the past nine months. The 25-year-old spent the second half of 2022 on the injured list with a forearm strain, pitched nearly nine innings in spring training, then opened the new season on the injured list with upper arm discomfort.
This time, the Tigers needed more than two weeks to fully diagnose the injury. After multiple opinions from specialists, Brieske was diagnosed with a right ulnar nerve entrapment and received a nerve hydrodissection procedure, rather than elbow surgery, to treat his symptoms. Avoiding surgery seems like positive news, but the Tigers aren’t celebrating yet.
“I don’t know a ton about the procedure,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “The report is what we have, and he’s going to continue throwing. It sounds like things are pointing in the right direction, the way he reports it to me.”
There isn’t a timetable for Brieske’s return to games, and there’s always a chance his right arm doesn’t bounce back with hydrodissection, a minimally invasive therapy that typically involves an injection. The procedure seems like “Plan A” in the rehabilitation process.
The Tigers should know soon.
Brieske will resume throwing at some point this week in Lakeland, Florida, following a rest period. He hasn’t pitched in a game since March 24 in spring training. The former 27th-round draft pick posted a 9.28 ERA with five walks and nine strikeouts across 10⅔ innings in six outings.
“The news for me will be good whenever he’s competitive and able to maintain his progression,” Hinch said. “I’m certainly happy to hear that he’s going to be in Lakeland doing a lot of activities as a baseball player.”
Brieske showcased better results in the 2022 season: 4.19 ERA, 25 walks and 54 strikeouts across 81⅔ innings in 15 starts for the Tigers. He also had a 4.15 ERA with five walks and 19 strikeouts across 17⅓ innings in four starts for Triple-A Toledo.
Before Brieske’s latest injury, he was competing for a spot in the Tigers’ Opening Day bullpen.
Right-hander Michael Lorenzen has recovered from the left groin strain he suffered in spring training.
He completed a rehab start Saturday in Triple-A Toledo and completed a bullpen session Tuesday at the Rogers Centre in Toronto in preparation for his next start. The 31-year-old, who signed a one-year, $8.5 million contract in the offseason, is lined up for Friday’s game against the San Francisco Giants at Comerica Park.
On Sunday, Hinch said the Tigers expected Lorenzen to make his next start in the big leagues over the weekend. Two days later, though, Hinch’s tone changed when asked about the plan.
“There’s a tentative plan,” Hinch said. “Nothing that I can really share right now, but I feel good with where he’s at physically in what he can do in his next start. … We need to develop a more firm plan. It kind of depends on what we do with him and where we do it. He’s not really front-of-mind right now.”
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Wentz, a 25-year-old with swing-and-miss upside, officially joined the rotation when Lorenzen pulled his groin. He has allowed eight runs on five hits and five walks with three strikeouts in seven innings this season.
If Lorenzen will replace Wentz, the Tigers could have demoted Wentz to Triple-A Toledo and snagged an additional relief pitcher for the three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays. But the Tigers — surprisingly — never made a roster move.
So, is Wentz going to pitch out of the bullpen?
That’s another question Hinch wouldn’t answer.
“I wouldn’t tell you if he was,” Hinch said. “You guys can check the broadcast feed. If he’s in the dugout, he’s probably not going to be used. But I would never tell you.”
Moving him down
The Tigers employed shortstop Javier Báez as the No. 5 hitter in the batting order Tuesday against Blue Jays right-hander Alek Manoah, behind Akil Baddoo, Riley Greene, Matt Vierling and Kerry Carpenter.
It’s the lowest he has been in the lineup this season.
“My two choices were three and five in today’s lineup, and this is the way I went,” Hinch said. “Hopefully, it gives him a little bit of a different look. Regardless of where he hits, we’d like him to get into the strike zone a little bit more.”
As part of the renovations at the Rogers Centre — a multi-year, $300 million project — the Blue Jays changed their outfield dimensions in the offseason, making the ballpark even more hitter-friendly.
The walls were brought in, which should increase home runs, at four different spots: left-center (by 7 feet), right-center (16 feet), left-center power alley (2 feet) and right-center power alley (11 feet).
The biggest change: It’s 359 feet to the right-center wall.
“I think the outfielders will have the biggest adjustment just because of the new bounces off the fences,” Hinch said. “It’s just getting a feel for how the ball is going to react off the fence, but you can do that in one (batting practice).”
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The left-field (328 feet) and right-field lines (328 feet) did not change, while center field remains 400 feet.
The Blue Jays ranked seventh in MLB with 200 home runs last season, led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (32), Matt Chapman (27), George Springer (25), Teoscar Hernández (25), Bo Bichette (24), Danny Jansen (15) and Alejandro Kirk (14).
They crushed 102 homers at the Rogers Centre.
“I think we got to work out on it before they did,” Hinch said. “We did our early work and they came out afterward. At this level, you can be a pretty quick learn, but the majority of it is going to be trial-and-error playing in new dimensions.”