Chicago – He saw all the “Free Casey Mize” and “Call Up Mize” hashtags springing up across social media platforms these past couple of months as fans’ clamor to see the No. 1 overall pick from 2018 began to crescendo. And just so you know – Casey Mize himself appreciated it.
Quite honestly, he shared your sentiments.
“I’m really happy they got what they wanted, finally,” he said with a smile on Tuesday. “I hope I perform well and they can be even more happy. It was cool to see the fans backing me. I definitely noticed. Keep it coming.”
In what might’ve been the most highly-anticipated Tigers’ debut since Justin Verlander in 2005, Mize did not finish the fifth inning. Nor did he disappoint, going 4.1 innings in the Tigers’ 5-3 loss to the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field Wednesday night.
Jose Abreu broke a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the eighth inning, hitting a first-pitch, opposite-field home run off reliever Gregory Soto. Edwin Encarnacion followed with his second home run of the game.
The Tigers (9-13) have lost eight straight games.
Until the fifth inning, Mize was as advertised, calm, confident and in control – and that split-fingered fastball of his wasn’t too shabby either. He ended up allowing seven hits and three runs, but he also struck out seven and had 11 swings and misses, six with his splitter.
“My mentality every time is to go deep into the game and save the bullpen,” he said Tuesday. “That’s what starters are for. That’s what is expected.”
Going into the fifth, he’d made just one mistake. He hung a 1-2 curveball to Encarnacion, who bashed it 414 feet into the seats in left field. Mize took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the fifth.
After rookie catcher Zack Collins led off with a double, defending American League batting champion Tim Anderson, who Mize had gotten twice, striking him out on three pitches in the third, singled him home.
Anderson stole second and scored the tying run on a single by Yoan Moncada, which ended Mize’s night.
He is the first pitcher in Tigers history to record at least seven strikeouts with no walks in his big-league debut. The last to do it in the big leagues was Washington’s Stephen Strasburg, June 8, 2010.
The White Sox were celebrating their own big-league debut. Top prospect right-hander Dane Dunning, an SEC rival of Mize’s from Florida, also went 4.1 innings, allowed three runs and posted seven strikeouts.
The Tigers got all three of their runs with one swing of the bat. Jeimer Candelario, moved into the lead-off spot by manager Ron Gardenhire, ended Dunning’s night with a three-run home run in the fifth.
Candelario had doubled to lead off the game, too.
Mize came into the Tigers’ organization after starring at Auburn more polished than a typical draft pick. He has four elite pitches, but scouts and coaches raved about his makeup – his preparation, work ethic, mound presence and especially his desire to be great.
That last part had Tigers pitching coach Rick Anderson a little concerned.
“I had a long talk with Casey this spring,” he said. “I told him, ‘You want to be the best and there is no problem about wanting to be the best. But don’t let it get in your way.’”
Certainly Mize had never heard those words from any other coach he’s ever had.
“These guys can put too much pressure on themselves,” Anderson said. “And when things don’t go right that day, it can affect them.”
He’s watched No. 1 starter Matthew Boyd struggle early this season after he tried to make what was an excellent pitch for him, his four-seam fastball, even better. The end result was he lost the feel on two of his pitches. So, Anderson wanted to send that cautionary message to Mize.
“Absolutely strive to be the best,” he told Mize. “But don’t let it get in the way.”