And on Tuesday, in his Motor City homecoming, pitching in front of dozens of family, friends and former teammates, the 24-year-old Astros right-hander beat his favorite team to claim his second career win in as many starts.
Brown threw six innings, allowing two runs on five hits and two walks while striking out six batters to give the Astros a 6-3 win over the Tigers in the second game of a three-game series.
The Astros’ No. 1-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline (No. 71 overall), Brown grew up in the Detroit suburb of St. Clair Shores, where he pitched for Lakeview High School. He stayed in his hometown after graduating, pitching for Wayne State University. Brown said after the game that it was his first time at Comerica since before he was drafted in 2019. He recalls sitting in the right-field bleachers with his sister, who had season tickets at the time.
“The last two weeks have been, just in terms of life, even outside of baseball, it’s been a roller coaster,” Brown said. “I’m trying to manage it and throw the best I can. Everything has been a good change, so I’m just trying to acclimate to that.”
Brown, of course, had a huge contingent in attendance for his hometown return on Tuesday. Family and friends took up several rows of Comerica Park and roared after every out he recorded. A rowdy group of former Wayne State and Triple-A Sugar Land Space Cowboy teammates even made the trip.
“When I had one strikeout is when I noticed it, but definitely warming up in the bullpen I heard my name a lot, which was cool,” Brown said postgame. “After the game, I looked out and saw my Wayne State teammates and a lot of family and friends. It was really fun, really exciting.”
Brown finished his outing off strong after a shaky start. He allowed six of his seven baserunners and both runs through three innings, but held the Tigers to just one hit while striking out four in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings combined. Houston’s bullpen took over from there, allowing just one run over the final three innings. Brown said the early nerves may have contributed to his slow start.
“I think I got out of my mechanics a little bit,” Brown said. “That stuff happens over the course of the season and you try to fix it as fast and as quick as you can, and today I was able to do that.”
Brown induced three flyouts and four groundouts, including two rally-killing double plays that helped soothe those nerves.
“We were told before that the main thing is, [Brown] gets the ball down when he needs it to be down,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He has a very good breaking ball. [Catcher Martín Maldonado] settled him down and directed him through the game. If you give our defense a chance, we’re going to catch the ball. On the ground, there’s a good chance it’ll be a double play.”
Riley Greene led off the game for Detroit with a five-pitch walk against Brown. But three pitches later, there were two outs in the inning.
“Those [double plays] were huge, especially after a leadoff walk,” Brown said. “Those are never good. Leadoff walks usually lead to runs. To get a double play like that, and another one later, probably changed the course of my outing, which was good.”
After throwing 79 pitches in his first start on Sept. 5, Brown threw 82 pitches (57 strikes) Tuesday. Baker said 90 pitches “is the benchmark for now” for the young starter.
“We had a complete game last night,” Baker added. “We had a fresh bullpen. If he’d [gone] out there [for the seventh inning], there’s a good chance he could have got to 100 pitches, which is kind of over his limit right now.”
The right-hander showed off his usual high-powered stuff, averaging 96.7 mph with his fastball and 92.8 mph with his slider. Brown relied primarily on his four-seam fastball, which he threw 54 times (66%). He mixed in his knuckle-curve and slider 17 and 10 times, respectively.
The Astros offense showed up behind Brown to ensure a 2-0 start to his career.
Yordan Alvarez led the way, going 2-for-4 and kicking off the scoring with a solo home run in the first inning. With two outs in the third, Alvarez hit a double into the right-field corner to start a three-run, two-out rally that included a bloop single from Alex Bregman and a two-run home run from Kyle Tucker. Alvarez, who had just four extra-base hits over 23 games in August, appears to have rediscovered his power stroke. He has six extra-base hits -- two home runs and four doubles -- over nine games since returning on Sept. 4 after missing five games with hand soreness.
Yuli Gurriel drove in the Astros’ fifth and sixth runs with a two-run line drive home run to left field in the seventh. It was the 38-year-old’s first home run since July 1. Gurriel is batting .300 with a .742 OPS over 10 games in September, which is a good sign for Houston’s offense with October looming.
“I think the biggest thing is just my confidence,” Gurriel said. “I’ve been working a lot with the hitting coaches and with my brother at home, and [I’m] just trying to finish off strong.”
With 20 games left to play, the Astros' magic number to clinch the AL West is down to nine. As the playoffs approach, Brown is trying to pitch himself onto the playoff roster -- no matter what his role in October may be. A right calf injury to Verlander helped open the door for Brown to join the rotation. Outings like today’s, Brown hopes, will keep him in blue and orange come playoff time.
“I’m hoping to show Dusty and my teammates and everybody that I can stick around for a while, and hopefully contribute to doing that,” Brown said. “Whenever they tell me to pitch, I’ll be ready. Whatever my role going forward is, whatever the club needs from me on that given day is what I’ll do.”