Casey Mize watched from the dugout as Cleveland Indians starter Shane Bieber dispatched the Detroit Tigers — two strikeouts in first inning, two more in the second, a perfect third and three consecutive punchouts with a five-run lead in the fourth.
Expected to become this year’s AL Cy Young, Bieber gave up just two hits and one walk before the Tigers forced him out at 118 pitches in the eighth inning. Still, the 25-year-old — who only debuted two seasons ago — guided the Indians to a 10-3 win Thursday at Comerica Park.
Mize couldn’t keep up.
The rookie right-hander didn’t have command of his splitter, a pitch that made the Tigers dream about the future when they took him No. 1 overall in the 2018 draft. He had a tough time getting ahead in counts. And he couldn’t get out of the fourth inning.
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A fourth-round pick in 2016, Bieber is the best he’s ever been. After watching a masterpiece unfold, the 23-year-old Mize acknowledged he wants to become Bieber, not by replicating his every detail, of course, but by consistently winning games and being considered one of the game’s premier pitchers.
“I definitely want to be thought of as that kind of player,” Mize said Thursday. “He’s really good and having a very impressive year. He’s very well thought of. I want to be that kind of player in the future. It’s just, there’s a lot of work that’s got to be done.”
Two years younger than Bieber, Mize countered his gem by retiring seven in a row after Jose Ramirez sent his 2-1 splitter over the right-field wall in the first inning. Catcher Austin Romine called for the pitch below the strike zone, but Mize wanted to even up the count. He purposely left it up in the zone, and an aggressive Ramirez didn’t miss.
That’s a lesson learned.
“Obviously, Romi was right,” Mize said. “I was wrong. It’s just things like that I have to improve upon. I hate that he drove it out of the park and scored a run, but after that, (the splitter) just kind of sailed on me a little bit. I wasn’t able to go back to it much.”
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Despite taking down seven consecutive, Mize collapsed in the fourth inning. He gave up two singles, three walks and a second home run to Ramirez — this time on a 95.1 mph fastball — before manager Ron Gardenhire benched him with two outs.
Of his 79 pitches, all four of his swinging strikes and six of his eight called strikes came from his fastball. He only used 10 splitters, a pitch he typically goes to 25.6% of the time. Working out of the stretch throughout the fourth-inning jam didn’t help, either.
“Especially after last week’s outing when I didn’t work out of the stretch very much at all,” said Mize, who took a no-hitter into the sixth inning Sept. 11 against the Chicago White Sox. “And then the first three innings today, didn’t work out of the stretch much. The focus of this week’s bullpen and catch play is gonna be a lot of stretch work. Something was obviously just a little bit off there, which led to spraying pitches all over the place and some command issues.”
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As Mize slammed into a roadblock, Bieber stayed strong.
He kept the Tigers at bay with a two-hit performance until the eighth inning, when he gave up a three-run blast with two outs to shortstop Willi Castro. With a 109.4 mph exit velocity, Bieber’s 90.9 mph cutter was lined inside the right-field foul pole.
If there’s anyone on the Tigers’ roster who understands Bieber’s journey to ace status, it’s Castro. They played together for High-A Lynchburg and Double-A Akron within the Indians’ farm system before Castro was traded to the Tigers in 2018 for outfielder Leonys Martin and right-hander Kyle Dowdy.
“We knew he had a really good opportunity to be one of the best pitchers,” Castro said Thursday. “He was really good when we were together. We knew he was going to end up in the big leagues, and he did.”
Through 11 games this season, Bieber leads the AL with a 1.74 ERA and is near the top with his 0.857 WHIP. He paces all MLB pitchers with 72⅓ innings, 112 strikeouts and 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings.
Last season, he finished fourth in AL Cy Young voting. Back in 2018, he had a 4.55 ERA but showed signs of what he’d become in the majors. And in this shortened 60-game season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he is putting everything together. His name is at the top of the Cy Young candidacy and should collect a few MVP votes.
Mize wants to be that guy.
“It’s got to translate to results on the field before that happens,” Mize said. “But I really do believe that’s the kind of player I can be. So, I’m just going to do everything I can to get there.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content.