Brieske owns up to loss, but sees positives

May 7th, 2022

HOUSTON -- Making his third Major League start Friday, Tigers right-hander  came fairly close to replicating a formula that led Detroit to a victory over the Dodgers in his last outing. But at Minute Maid Park, the Astros made him pay for two early mistakes with back-to-back home runs, and held on for a 3-2 win.

The Tigers (8-17) have lost three straight games, while the Astros (16-11) have won five straight.

“I think there's some good and some bad to take from it,” Brieske said. “I didn't make pitches when I needed to.”

When Brieske started at Dodger Stadium on April 30, he allowed three hits and one run in five innings during Detroit’s 5-1 win. The Dodgers whiffed only three times in 43 swings against him and struck out just three times, but Mookie Betts’ leadoff homer was the only run. Brieske’s command was tight, and he gave up no hits with a runner on base.

On Friday, Brieske allowed five hits and again struck out three in five innings. The average exit velocity, per Baseball Savant, was 87.8 mph -- very similar to the 86.9 mph in Los Angeles. The difference, however, was a quick three-batter span with two outs in the second inning.

Jeremy Peña blooped a two-strike hit into shallow left field and hustled it into a double. Two pitches later, Chas McCormick barreled an elevated fastball 408 feet to deep left-center, giving Houston a 2-1 lead. Three pitches later, Martín Maldonado blasted another fastball on the plate’s outer half to deep right, extending the lead to 3-1.

"It started with the hustle double from Peña,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “The momentum team that these guys can be, things got a little bit fast for him [Brieske], and they came up and did damage.”

“I felt like it was a decent pitch, but it was probably the wrong pitch [to McCormick],” Brieske said. “They came in with a good plan, and they were jumping my fastball, which kind of surprised me. The last two outings, I felt like I didn't have guys being as aggressive on the heater and trying to ambush it.”

Just like that, damage was done, and the Tigers couldn’t claw back versus talented Astros right-hander Luis Garcia -- who allowed just two hits over seven suffocating innings. Garcia struck out nine Detroit hitters, matching his career high, and the Tigers whiffed 17 times on 45 swings against him.

For Brieske -- ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Tigers' No. 22 prospect -- it was a start that in some ways showed promise. He forced four more whiffs than he did in Los Angeles, and he retired 9 of the final 11 Astros he faced over three shutout innings. Yordan Alvarez, Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker -- three feared names in the middle of Houston's loaded lineup -- combined to go 0-for-8 against him with three strikeouts.

“I started landing breaking balls in the zone, to make them respect it,” Brieske said. “I was also babying my changeup early in the game and I started to get a better feel for that, which opened up the rest of my arsenal. The key is continuing to learn the way I need to mix [pitches] to get guys out and keep them off balance, consistently.”

Ultimately, that brief lapse versus Houston’s No. 8 and No. 9 hitters -- and in Maldonado’s case, a .088 hitter this season -- was enough to lose.

“That's the separators in good outings, to bad outings, to average outings,” Brieske said. “You can make a good pitch and a guy gets a double, but if I get the next guy, it's not a big deal. We get a zero, and I get back in the dugout. I've just got to bear down there.”

At the plate, the Tigers scored twice early on RBI groundouts by Tucker Barnhart and Jeimer Candelario. But unlike the Astros, who hit for power, Detroit had no extra-base hits. The Tigers were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, and Detroit’s final 21 hitters were retired in order.

“We've tried to tell them not to make everything up in one swing,” Hinch said. “Guys want to do too much. The work is being put in, but the results aren't on the field yet.”

That led to Brieske absorbing a tough loss on the road versus the defending American League champions, even on a night with some positive takeaways.

“I found a good mix later in the outing,” he said. “I finished stronger than I started, so I'm happy with that. But I can be better, and I need to be better.”