Chicago — Casey Mize was getting just as antsy as the multitude of Tigers’ fans who posted “Free Mize” hashtags on Twitter the last few months. As patient as he’s been since the Tigers took him first overall in the 2018 draft, as methodical as he’s been, taking each step in the process as it comes and not looking too far ahead, he knew in his heart his time was now.
“Definitely,” Mize said Tuesday on the eve of his big-league debut against the White Sox. “The goal after I got drafted was to get to the big leagues as quickly as possible and be here for a long time. So, just with everything that happened this year, all the craziness, there were a lot of opportunities that arose and I felt like I could’ve helped out.”
You can hear the affirmation of Tigers’ Nation on that — “You are preaching to the choir Casey.”
“But what else could I do but work really hard and continue to perform,” he said. “I knew my day would come. That’s all I could do and that’s all I did. And now I’m here.”
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Yes, he is. He will get the ball on Wednesday, likely facing an old SEC rival, Florida product Dane Dunning, who is expected to make his major league debut as well.
“I’m just going to do what I can to help the team win ballgames,” Mize said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s very exciting. All the clichés — it’s everything I’ve worked for, my lifelong goal, all that stuff — it’s finally here.”
You know it’s a big deal when you get Twitter shout-outs from Bo Jackson, which Mize got from his fellow Auburn alumn Tuesday.
“Congrats on the call up @Casey_Mize and good luck in your MLB debut! #WarDamnEagle”
Pretty cool, too, to have Hall-of-Famer Jack Morris hop on your Zoom interview and encourage you to throw the pitch he helped make famous.
“You have a weapon nobody else on the staff throws — that splitter,” Morris said. “That can be a great equalizer.”
Mize, who watched the games Monday and Tuesday from the stands, is already plotting strategy for that pitch.
“If it’s feeling good, then there are a few hitters I’ve picked out that I feel I can really capitalize on throwing the splitter to,” he said. “I have that in the back of my mind already. But I still have to go out and execute. We’ll see how it feels tomorrow.”
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If you don’t know by now, Mize is not your typical, wide-eyed 23-year-old. It’s almost like he’s been groomed for this type of spotlight since he was a prized recruit in high school and one of the top collegiate players in the nation at Auburn.
“I’m honestly not nervous right now,” he said. “I was pretty nervous when I got the call, but ever since then I haven’t felt them again. Maybe they will come back tomorrow, who knows? But I’ll be able to move past that.”
He was watching the Tigers game against the Indians Saturday night with his wife in their downtown condo in Detroit when he got the call from vice president of player development David Littlefield.
“My wife was sitting on the couch and I kind of gave her a fist-pump,” Mize said. “She went crazy. That was awesome. We had a glass of wine to celebrate and then I called my brother and my parents. It was a really cool night.”
About the only time he’s seemed wide-eyed in these last 48 hours was when he and Tarik Skubal boarded the team’s plane on Sunday.
“The plane is sic,” he said. “Skubal and I sat together and we were just kind of in awe. Honestly, it’s pretty cool. I felt so new to everything, but I looked around at the other players and it was just like, ‘Meh, just another routine plane ride.’
“To me, it was really special.”
And the food, good gracious.
“Everywhere you looked there was access to food,” he said. “Pretty different from the minor league ball. You are trying not to starve down there. Up here it’s like I have to be careful about how much food I take in. That’s a lot different. But I like it.”
On the bigger issues though — like carrying the weight of enormous expectations, his, the organization’s, the fan base’s — he’s uncommonly calm.
“I’m blessed to be in a position where people expect a lot out of me,” he said, which has been his rote answer to expectation questions since draft day. “That means I’ve done something right and a lot of people who have helped me along the way have put me in a good position to be here.
“I know that (expectations) are going to come with this, but honestly man, I’m really just trying to focus on what I expect from myself. I promise you, if I accomplish what I expect from myself, I’ll make a lot of other people happy about their expectations, too.”
There’s no way of knowing how sharp he’ll be right out of the gate. Throwing intrasquad games and live batting practice sessions against the same hitting group in Toledo for a month isn’t an optimal way to prepare for, say, a White Sox lineup that just pounded six home runs against your team on Monday.
But the reports have been glowing. His arm has looked lively and he will have no innings or pitch-count restrictions.
“Hats off to the staff down there (Toledo) because they did a great job with what we had,” Mize said. “They provided us with as much of a competitive environment as they could for us to stay sharp — but it’s a really big jump from that to the big leagues.
“It definitely was a challenge facing the same hitters every day and you had coaches filling in at different positions. You really had to self-motivate and try to get locked in. It was a challenge, but we did the best we could.”
The more he talked, though, about soaking everything up, about taking mental pictures and making it a memorable day — you could feel his anticipation build.
“I always expect myself to put the team in a position to win,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to try to do. But expect, too, that I am going to have a lot of fun. That’s what I’m trying to challenge myself to do — enjoy the moment. Really, everything I worked for is happening right now.
“Try to enjoy it and try to win a ballgame.”
Tigers at White Sox
First pitch: Wednesday, 8:10 p.m.
TV/radio: FSD, 97.1
RHP Casey Mize (MLB debut), Tigers: The first overall pick in 2018, Mize posted a 2.55 ERA with 106 strikeouts in 109.1 innings through High-A and Double-A last year. His season was cut short because of shoulder fatigue. But he was dominant in both spring and summer camps, with his mid-90s fastball and wicked array of secondary pitches, featuring a split-finger fastball that would make Hall-of-Famer Jack Morris proud.
TBA, White Sox: It is expected the White Sox will call-up right-hander Dane Dunning, the former Florida standout and former first-round pick of the Nationals. It would be his big-league debut and first start since coming back from Tommy John surgery.