July 1, 2022

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Brieske shows mettle, retires All-Star after 14-pitch at-bat

4 min read
Righty forces unexpected pitching duel vs. Kershaw in second MLB start
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LOS ANGELES — On a night when Javier Báez leaned into his recurring role as a Dodger Stadium villain, Beau Brieske refused to play the stooge.

While Clayton Kershaw was always going to be the star Saturday night, setting the Dodgers’ franchise record for career strikeouts, Brieske seemed set up to play the anonymous hurler on the other end. With each fastball over the plate that Justin Turner fouled off, Brieske seemed a pitch closer to disaster.

This is what the Dodgers do. They prolong at-bats, wear down pitchers and pounce on the eventual mistake.

“They’re an elite offense for a reason,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “A lot of it is what they do production-wise, but their at-bats, they don’t get off their A-swing, they don’t chase, one through nine [in the batting order], doesn’t matter who they play.”

It was a leadoff at-bat in the fourth inning of a tie game, but in an unexpected pitching duel, it was a potential turning point. Kershaw was his usual self in his 380th Major League start; Brieske was still finding his way in his second.

Yet as the pitches piled up, Brieske didn’t waver, challenging Turner in the strike zone through eight consecutive foul balls on 3-2 pitches. All but one were in the strike zone, according to Gameday. A few were over the middle of the plate, from an 80 mph changeup on the eighth pitch of the at-bat to a 94 mph fastball on the 11th.

It could’ve been demoralizing, the struggle to finish off an All-Star. For Brieske, it was energizing. And as the Tigers celebrated a 5-1 win to end a six-game losing streak, that mentality was a key for the rookie starter and the team alike.

“The way I saw it was, [Turner] pretty much knew what was coming and he wasn’t getting the barrel to it,” Brieske said afterwards. “I didn’t want to back down. I didn’t want to be too fine and end up walking him. It got to a point where it felt like he was trying to foul pitches off.”

That was Brieske’s advantage; virtually all the pitches were fouled back. So he kept firing strikes.

The 11th, 12th and 13th pitches were all fastballs, but to different parts of the zone. After Turner fouled off the fastball over the plate, Brieske tried to beat him at the top of the zone. Then Brieske went to the outside corner. Different locations, same result, with Brieske getting a new ball and Turner getting new life.

Once they went to 14 pitches, Brieske had the longest at-bat by a Tigers pitcher since Mike Pelfrey led off a May 23, 2016, start against the Phillies with a 14-pitch battle against Odubel Herrera. Pelfrey was a veteran at that point and knew how to handle the ensuing single. By contrast, Saturday marked just the 12th game above High-A ball for Brieske, a 27th-round pick from the 2019 Draft whose combination of mature approach and rapid improvement earned him a fast track up the Tigers system.

That maturity served him well Saturday. On the 14th pitch of the at-bat, Brieske went back over the plate, but with a changeup. The 79 mph offering was his slowest pitch of the at-bat. It was also the one that Turner put into play.

Turner dropped his head as the lazy fly ball sailed to center field and into Derek Hill’s glove. Brieske pointed to the fly ball and hopped off the mound. He had two more full counts after that, giving up a Chris Taylor two-out double, but won a nine-pitch battle with Gavin Lux on another changeup for a groundout.

“It kind of took an inning away from him,” Hinch said of Brieske’s battle, “but it also allowed him to stay in the game. He got some big outs to finish the fifth. But those long at-bats, I mean, he threw every pitch he had and Turner’s been one of the best in the league for a long time. This is a 1-1 game at that point. These are important pitches and it could swing either way, but not cowering down and walking him and being afraid of him, it’s nice to see.”

Brieske got a no-decision for his five innings of three-hit ball, allowing only a Mookie Betts leadoff homer. But he essentially battled Kershaw to a draw, keeping the game close for Báez to lead the Tigers ahead on an RBI double in a three-run seventh.

Dodgers fans, still remembering Báez from playoffs past with the Cubs, booed him relentlessly. They likely won’t remember Brieske. But Brieske will remember that at-bat.

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