Needing to break a six-game losing streak on Saturday night in LA, the Detroit Tigers turned to a rookie starter and another dominant night from the bullpen, earning a 5-1 win over the Dodgers. Beau Brieske’s five innings of one-run ball against a great lineup took center stage, but this was really the kind of quality team effort that has been lacking lately.
So, this one saw Beau Brieske, a 27th rounder in 2019 who reinvented himself during the 2020 off-year and burst on our radar as a surprisingly strong prospect only last June, take on a legend who is still a very good starting pitcher in Clayton Kershaw. You couldn’t have a much more unlikely pairing. Brieske was making just his 12th start above the A-ball level, taking on one of the greatest of all time. And his team really needed to stop the bleeding and get a win.
Things did not start off auspiciously, but as we’ve said repeatedly this spring, Brieske is quite good and really mature for his experience level. There are things that need improvement, but the stuff and composure continued to impress. If you shook your head when the second pitch he threw was driven out to left by Mookie Betts for a solo home run, you can be forgiven considering the Tigers’ fortunes to date. But Brieske kept cool and commenced proving it against one of the best offenses in baseball on Saturday night.
It didn’t look great when he walked Freddie Freeman, and Trea Turner flew out to Derek Hill on the warning track, but Brieske settled in from there to spin scoreless frames the rest of the way. He got Max Muncy to ground into a force-out, and froze Justin Turner with a fastball on the edge for strike three to clean up the first inning. From there, he had the game under control.
Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw was dealing, retiring eight straight to start the game. The Dodgers legend collected his 2697th strikeout by freezing Spencer Torkelson with a fastball on the outer edge in the second inning, breaking Don Sutton’s 43-year-old Dodgers record. While Justin Verlander is the one climbing toward the loftiest traditional marks, with Max Scherzer very much in the mix, Kershaw looks very likely to reach 3000 strikeouts and start passing greats in the all-time categories on his path to the first-ballot Hall of Fame status he deserves.
However, the ninth batter Kershaw faced, Tigers’ center fielder Derek Hill, lashed a double into the left-field corner. Robbie Grossman drew a two-out walk, and Javier Báez, hitting in the second spot in the order as manager A.J. Hinch tries to shake them out of their funk, smacked an RBI single to left to score Hill from second.
In the meantime, Brieske came out looking unphased by Betts solo shot and overpowered the Dodgers in the second inning, striking out Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor before popping up Gavin Lux. After the Tigers scored in the top of the third to even things up, Brieske got into a little trouble in the bottom of the third, but after a visit from pitching coach Chris Fetter, catcher Dustin Garneau called for a 2-2 changeup away, and Brieske got Max Muncy off balance for a routine ground out to first to escape a two-out jam.
Overall, Brieske was still inconsistent with his slider and curveball. Neither is yet a proven weapon and that limits him right now. However, once he settled in and started showing better fastball and changeup command, he really worked over a strong Dodgers lineup and made quality pitches when he needed them. It’s really striking how far and how fast Brieske has developed. We expected he need more seasoning, and perhaps he will, but he’s doing a pretty good job making a case to stick around already.
As has been the story so far this year, while Brieske was doing a nice job, the offense wasn’t getting anything going against Kershaw. Austin Meadows and Jeimer Candelario each singled in the fourth, but Kershaw punched out Garneau on three pitches to escape a two-out, two-on jam. They went quietly in the fifth and sixth as Dave Roberts went to his bullpen.
However, the outstanding work from the Tigers’ bullpen continued. Jacob Barnes spun a clean sixth after Brieske departed with five innings of one-run ball. And the Tigers finally mustered a rally. Evan Phillips took over from Kershaw and hit Candelario, the first batter he faced. Hinch pinch-hit Harold Castro for Garneau, and he quickly paddled a sharp ground ball through the right side for a single. Derek Hill struck out, and then Robbie Grossman was rung up on a really bad call and the Tigers collective fandom cried out for justice.
Another opportunity looked to be slipping away, but Báez was in the two-hole, and once again, he came through. The Tigers’ shortstop ripped a double into the right-field corner, and Candelario scored to give the Tigers their first lead in quite some time. Roberts pulled Phillips and brought in the intimidating Brusdar Graterol, but he walked Miguel Cabrera, and Austin Meadows slapped a broken-bat single through the left side, and Castro and Báez raced home to make it 4-1. Finally, a little batted ball luck, despite the fact that the Tigers still didn’t flash much power in this game.
Joe Jiménez got into trouble in the bottom of the seventh, walking Cody Bellinger after a 12 pitch leadoff at-bat. A one-out single from Gavin Lux and Hinch had seen enough. He turned to Michael Fulmer, who got a double-play ball from Austin Barnes to snuff the threat with a quickness.
The Tigers added a run in the top of the eighth when Jeimer Candelario reached on a ground ball single to shortstop after initially being called out. After the challenge went the Tigers’ way, Tucker Barnhart lashed a double to right, and Candy raced around from first with an insurance run. Fortunately, the bullpen needed no help.
In the bottom of the eighth, Michael Fulmer racked up three quick outs, rescued a bit on a two-out line drive into the right-center field gap that Austin Meadows caught with a lunging dive as Derek Hill, streaking to the ball, peeled off at the last second to avoid a potentially scary collision, leaping over Meadows at the last moment.
Gregory Soto’s last outing was a bit of a shambles, but he shook it off and overpowered the Dodgers with no trouble at all here to earn the save and break the six-game losing streak.
The Tigers will have another tough test on Sunday afternoon, as Eduardo Rodriguez takes on Walker Buehler at 4:10 p.m. EDT.