Detroit – The Cleveland Indians limped into Comerica Park Thursday night dragging an eight-game losing streak. They had slid back to the pack in the wild-card race, leading the Tigers by 4.5 games coming into this four-game series.
Theoretically, this could’ve been a pivotal weekend for the Tigers.
Jose Ramirez had four hits, blasted a pair of home runs and knocked in four to send the Indians to a 10-3 romp, expelling whatever air might’ve still been holding the Tigers’ wild card hopes afloat.
Casey Mize, the Tigers first overall pick in the 2018 draft who pitched five innings of no-hit ball against the White Sox in his last outing, didn’t make it out of the fourth inning in this one.
BOX SCORE: Indians 10, Tigers 3
“He lost command of all his pitches,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He just started misfiring.”
Mize hung a split-fingered fastball to Ramirez in the first inning that ended up 404 feet into the seats in right field. But he settled in and dispatched seven straight through three innings before it all unraveled in a 38-pitch, four-run fourth.
“I just wasn’t getting ahead,” Mize said. “It felt like I was 2-0 on every guy and it’s really tough to pitch in that deep of a hole. I have to do a better job of getting strike one. That’s been my game plan the last couple of weeks and I’d shown improvement the last time out.
“But in the fourth inning, I got behind and it got away from me.”
This was Mize’s sixth start, and having jumped from Double-A to the big leagues, there was bound to be some growing pains. The fourth inning was case-in-point. He didn’t pitch much from the stretch in his previous start and he didn’t throw a single pitch out of the stretch Thursday until the fourth inning.
“I had been comfortable (pitching out of the stretch) for a while now, but there were probably eight inning there where it didn’t happen and it can throw you off. That will be my focus in my bullpen and catch-play this week, a lot of stretch play.
“I was obviously a little bit off there and it led to me spraying pitches all over the place.”
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After Cesar Hernandez led off the fourth with a single to left, Ramirez blasted a 3-2 fastball into the seats in right. Mize’s control faltered and the Indians loaded the bases with a couple of walks and a single.
He got Josh Naylor to pop out, but third baseman Isaac Paredes misplayed a ground ball right at the bag at third that would have ended the inning.
“We have to make that play,” Gardenhire said. “We get that out and Casey is back in the dugout and probably back out there in the fifth. It wasn’t made, but he still has to make pitches and get out of the inning.”
Mize’s day was over after walked Francisco Lindor, the ninth Indians player to bat in the fourth. Three of the five runs against him were earned. He gave up four hits and three walks and had just one strikeout and four whiffs on 32 swings.
“Those walks are very unlike me,” Mize said. “I have a pretty good track record of not being a guy who walks people. It’s just frustrating to go out and walk three guys in an inning and let it get away from me like that.”
Lefty Nick Ramirez kept Mize’s line from being completely gaudy, striking out Hernandez to strand the three runners.
“Casey will be better for this,” Gardenhire said. “It’s a learning experience. You are going to go through tough times up here. He’s got one or two more starts this year. This guy can pitch. He’s going to be OK.”
Those early runs were fatal, though, especially with right-hander Shane Bieber starting for the Indians.
The leading candidate for American League Cy Young honors, Bieber came into the start leading the league in strikeouts (102), ERA (1.53) and wins (7). None of those rankings were seriously harmed — he was virtually untouched for seven innings.
But the Indians inexplicably left him in the game to pitch the eighth with a 10-run lead as his pitch count climbed to 118. He gave up a double to Isaac Paredes and walked pinch-hitter Derek Hill, and with two outs, Willi Castro lined a three-run homer down the line in right.
Castro grew up in the Indians system and was a teammate of Bieber’s in High-A and Double-A.
“He’s a great pitcher,” Castro said. “He struck me out two times with really good pitches. I had bad swings. I couldn’t go out with that. I had to battle that last at-bat I had — and that happened.”
Before that, though, two softly-struck singles – by Jorge Bonifacio and Austin Romine – were all the Tigers managed against him.
Bieber, using primarily his four-seam fastball, knuckle curve and change-up, struck out 10. It was the 11th straight start that he’s posted at least eight strikeouts, He got 21 swings and misses and 18 called strikes.
“Their guy was phenomenal,” Gardenhire said. “Yeah, we knew they were struggling. We knew we were 4.5 game behind. But we also knew we were going to be facing a really tough pitcher. He didn’t give us too much.”