A year later and in a different role, Beau Brieske finds path back into Tigers’ plans

Detroit News

Detroit – At this time last year, right-hander Beau Brieske seemed on his way to cementing himself into the Tigers’ starting rotation plans. He’d just shutout the White Sox over 6.1 innings, in the middle of a run of three straight quality starts where he allowed just six earned runs and held opposing hitters to a .197 batting average.

Then he was gone.

On Saturday, nearly a year later, Brieske walked back into the Tigers clubhouse.

“It’s great to be back,” he said, with a smile. “Felt like a long road.”

The Tigers before the game activated Brieske off the injured list and optioned right-hander Alex Faedo back to Triple-A Toledo.

“I told him, ‘Welcome to the season in July,’” manager AJ Hinch joked. “There’s only so long you can leave 96, 97, 98 mph down in Triple-A on rehab. He was super excited to get back here. We gave him a super long rehab stint so he could regain the confidence that he was healthy.”

What a journey this past year has been for the 25-year-old Brieske. He started feeling pain in his forearm in his last couple of starts last season. Then the pain moved to his biceps. Up and down his arm, every time he pitched, it seemed, he’d feel pain in a different part of his arm.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “When you’re dealing with nerves, it was just traveling so much. It just tracked up and down the arm. Just didn’t make a lot of sense until this spring.”

Brieske rehabbed his arm and strengthened his entire body over the offseason and thought he had the issue resolved this spring. He did not. The pain returned, even though he was still throwing upper-90 mph fastballs and mixing his changeup and slider like always.

“That’s when it started to make sense — this is a nerve issue and that’s why it was traveling and the pain wasn’t the same every single time,” he said.

The next step in the process was figuring out exactly where the nerve damage was and how to treat it.

“So much imaging and so many tests,” Brieske said. “Just trying to get the right doctor to see the right thing and make sense out of what was going on. Then treat it and rehab it and just make sense of it because, like I said, it was a strange thing.”

The blessing through it all was that every test, every picture, confirmed there was no structural damage. The nerve “entrapment” as it was diagnosed, was in the ulnar area of his right elbow, but the ulnar collateral ligament was not damaged.

“That was always the thing,” Brieske said. “Every time the test was done they said, ‘Structure-wise, you’re sound.’ That was always a big relief. Even though it was bothering me as much as it was, it wasn’t anything that required surgery.”

After a couple of starts and stops, Brieske was able to make 11 rehabs outings between High-A West Michigan and Triple-A Toledo. He’s been transitioned to a bulk-inning relief role.

“It’s nice to think about executing pitches out there instead of thinking about how to protect my arm,” he said. “That’s a huge step forward.”

As for the role change, Brieske’s attitude, predictably, was, bring it on.

“Whatever I need to do, I am still going to go out there and be a pitcher,” he said. “The role may be different than what I’ve done before, but it doesn’t mean pitching is going to be any different. I’m just going to go out there and be a pitcher.”

Faedo’s fate

Bringing Brieske up Saturday provided a needed fresh arm for the bullpen. Alex Faedo, who threw 72 pitches in 3.2 innings in his start Friday night, wasn’t going to be available again until after the All-Star break anyway.

“Alex will start (for Toledo) right after the break,” Hinch said. “We have 17 straight games after the All-Star break so there’s a chance we get creative with the rotation or how we go to bullpen games and need some length. There may be an opportunity (for Faedo) to pitch.”

Hinch said Faedo would stay in the rotation at Toledo in hopes of stretching out to 100 pitches. That would allow the Tigers to plug him in as either a starter or a long-reliever, depending on the needs.

A Greene return

Figures center fielder Riley Greene would return off the injured list exactly on his bobble-head giveaway day at Comerica Park.

“That wasn’t planned,” he said, smiling. “I knew there was going to be one, but I didn’t know it was today.”

Greene has been out since May 30 with a stress reaction in his left fibula. Hinch said he planned to take a cautious approach with easing him back. Greene was in the lineup as the designated hitter Saturday.

“The biggest change for Riley, post-break, will include some DH games for him, just as a precaution until he gets back into game shape,” Hinch said. “There will also be some scheduled days off, which will frustrate everybody on the front end and on the back end.

“But the reality is, this type of injury, coming back from this type of injury, is exaggerated by the pounding of playing every single day. We have to pick and choose times in the week to 10 days after the break to alleviate some of that fear.”

Greene doesn’t love it, but he understands it.

“I feel like it’s not going to be a problem,” he said. “He’s taking it slow with me, which I appreciate. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team.”

Twitter@cmccosky

Blue Jays at Tigers, Comerica Park

1:40 p.m.

TV/Radio: Bally Sports Detroit, 97.1.

Scouting report:

RHP Chris Bassitt (8-5, 4.09), Blue Jays: The Toledo-area native hit a rough patch in the middle of June but has recovered nicely, posting back-to-back quality starts including six scoreless innings against the Giants on June 29 when he struck out 12. He brings an eight-pitch palette to the easel: Five primary pitches (sinker, cutter, sweeper, curveball, four-seam fastball) and three secondary pitches (changeup, splitter, slider).

LHP Tarik Skubal (0-0, 0.00, Tigers: His second start back off the IL is expected to be set up like his first – a tandem start with Reese Olson. Skubal threw four scoreless, no-hit innings in his season debut. Depending on his pitch-count and performance, he could get stretched to five or more innings in this one, especially with the All-Star break looming.

— Chris McCosky

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