Detroit Tigers’ Beau Brieske returns from injury with big velocity boost out of bullpen

Detroit Free Press

SEATTLE — With the return of Beau Brieske, the Detroit Tigers welcomed back a nasty right-handed reliever who can be a dynamic weapon out of the bullpen in high-leverage situations.

He proved that on Saturday night.

“I was just champing at the bit to get back out there,” Brieske said. “I was just trying to have fun.”

Brieske, who spent the first 15 weeks of the season on the injured list, returned from his lengthy rehab assignment and made his season debut in Saturday’s 6-0 win over the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park.

The Tigers have Brieske, who posted a 4.19 ERA in 15 starts last season, built up to two innings and could push him to three innings. The 25-year-old hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since July 2022 because of a right ulnar nerve entrapment.

“We’ll keep his health in mind at all times,” Hinch said. “When we use him, we’re going to use him for a lot (of pitches). You won’t see him come in and throw only a few pitches. It’s probably a one (inning)-plus virtually every time.”

The situation wasn’t ideal for his return, but it allowed Brieske to demonstrate his value. He entered in the seventh inning, replacing starter Michael Lorenzen, with runners on first and second base.

Brieske pumped in a first-pitch 97.1 mph four-seam fastball for a called strike.

“I made some mechanical changes,” Brieske said. “Small, little cues and a few tweaks here and there. I ended up gaining some velocity. I came into (spring training), and even though I wasn’t feeling great, I was still throwing hard. I attribute that to the offseason work, working on my body and how my body moves.”

He showcased a velocity boost, compared to last season, with all four of his pitches in Saturday’s outing. His fastball averaged 96.6 mph, up from 94.3 mph, and his revered changeup averaged 87.5 mph, up from 82 mph.

If he locates pitches, there’s no doubt he will dominate in his role.

Brieske, a 27th-round pick in the 2019 draft, used two fastballs and two changeups to strike out Mike Ford, ending the seventh inning. He worked around a leadoff double in the eighth inning with three consecutive outs, including strikeouts of Julio Rodríguez and Ty France.

“He can pitch to a lot of different style lineups,” Hinch said. “I’m not afraid of him against lefties, which opens up any number of opportunities for him. It’s maintaining his secondary feel despite the velocity ticking up. When you get a new toy, like this 98-99 mph fastball, we want him to use it appropriately and still mix in his changeup.”

His five sinkers generated three of his five whiffs and one of his two called strikes. But in his return, it was pretty much all working.

“His two-seamer was really good last night,” Hinch said. “He nailed a couple backdoor sliders to lefties, which will be key. Making sure we don’t get too infatuated with the velocity and stop being a pitcher will be something I pay attention to.”

For the rest of the season, the Tigers will utilize Brieske’s four-pitch mix (and increased velocity) out of the bullpen.

In the future, though, he could return to the role of a starting pitcher. All options are on the table in 2024 and beyond.

“I think he can be an effective starting pitcher,” Hinch said. “I think he can certainly be a bridge reliever. His stuff is dynamic and has ticked up, like a lot of guys do in the bullpen. We don’t need to focus on that for the next few months, but it’s just nice to have him back in the fold somewhere.”

Spencer Turnbull update

Right-hander Spencer Turnbull (neck discomfort) threw about 20 pitches in a live batting practice session Saturday in Lakeland, Florida. He is expected to throw another live batting practice session early this week.

“Velocity was up a little bit,” Hinch said. “He reported no issues or no problem whatsoever.”

One of the batters Turnbull faced: Ryan Kreidler, a 25-year-old infielder rehabbing from core muscle surgery. When Kreidler had surgery on June 6, he was expected to miss about six weeks.

Turnbull, 30, needs at least two live BP sessions before beginning a rehab assignment. Earlier this season, Turnbull posted a 7.26 ERA with 15 walks and 24 strikeouts across 31 innings in seven starts.

It’s his first season back from Tommy John surgery.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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