Detroit Tigers’ Casey Mize has ‘so many weapons’ in search of progression

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — When Casey Mize finished throwing his bullpen Thursday, Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch pulled him aside.

The conversation wasn’t brief.

“His pitches are elite across the board,” Hinch said Friday, the third day of pitcher-catcher workouts in spring training. “When he understands the impact of the elevated fastball, when he can use his splitter — incredibly nasty — throughout the counts and not just late in counts to punch guys out, he will take a leap forward.”

Mize’s repertoire — splitter, four-seam fastball, sinker, slider, curveball — isn’t a concern. But the recipe for success is pitch usage and command. Bombarding the edges of the strike zone. Using his fastball up in the zone, then attacking downward.

The 23-year-old already knows this.

“Personally, I think you’re going to see what I know is the old me,” Mize said in late January. “Just pounding the strike zone and overwhelming hitters with strikes. Having leverage on my side is really the goal.”

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Mize is preparing for his second year in the majors, after making seven starts in his debut season in 2020. He had a 6.99 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 26 strikeouts and 13 walks across 28⅓ innings. The former No. 1 overall pick is still searching for his first MLB win.

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From one-on-one conversations and talking to others within the organization, Hinch knows Mize  prepares and self-evaluates well. The next step is to become a master of these traits.

“I want to enhance that,” Hinch said. “His stuff, across the board, inside the strike zone is really key. He’s got so many weapons. It’s going to be fun to watch him evolve and use his pitches a little more efficiently and effectively.”

Last season, opponents hit .143 (5-for-35) when Mize got ahead in the count. When the count was even, they hit .220 (9-for-41). And in situations where Mize was behind in the count, he got torched: 15-for-39 (.385) with six homers and 13 walks allowed.

Starting with a quality strike is Mize’s top priority, and it’s a concept Hinch has stressed numerous times to his pitching staff over the last three days.

“He has just about anything that he needs to attack the weakness of a hitter, and it’s still considered a strength by him,” Hinch said. “He’s learning, and we have to allow him the platform to learn. He wants to be perfect. He wants to be an anchor in this rotation. And I’ve told him the opportunity is going to be there for him to earn it.”

Friday’s workout

Six pitchers had bullpen sessions during Friday’s workout: Tyler Alexander, Daniel Norris, Jose Cisnero, Alex Lange, Zack Hess and Kyle Funkhouser. This is the third and final grouping for bullpens, meaning the first crew will pitch again Saturday.

On Tuesday, the pitchers will throw live BP, one day after the full squad arrives for workouts.

“They’re pretty locked in,” Hinch said. “They’re able to throw full, extensive bullpens, getting into the 30- to 40-pitch range. I think Matt Boyd threw 41 pitches yesterday. That’s a lot for this time in the spring. That shows preparedness. … These guys are ready to get on the mound and face hitters. These guys are going to be game-ready faster than I would have expected coming in.”

Lange was “pretty sharp,” Hinch said, adding he understands “why we’re happy with him” as a prospect. The 25-year-old was dealt from the Chicago Cubs to the Tigers in the 2019 Nicholas Castellanos trade.

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Left-hander Joey Wentz played catch off the mound for the first time since Tommy John surgery. The 23-year-old underwent elbow reconstruction in March 2020. He is the team’s No. 9 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

“The catcher was standing up, which is just introducing the slope of the mound to the throwing process,” Hinch said. “He’s been in our PFPs (pitcher-fielding practice), turning double plays, fielding bunts and throwing to first base. He was excited. I’m proud of him. That’s a big step, to feel like a pitcher again.”

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Porcello reunion unlikely

On Thursday night, the Tigers agreed to terms with veteran right-hander Wily Peralta on a minor-league deal with an invite to camp. If he makes the majors, he will earn $1.5 million with up to $300,000 in incentives. The team has not yet announced the move.

The organization earlier this winter signed right-hander Jose Urena to a one-year, $3.25 million contract. Then, general manager Al Avila picked up Peralta, Derek Holland and Erasmo Ramirez — potential starters with relief capabilities — on minors deals with invitations to Lakeland.

“We’re definitely looking for more pitching as we speak,” Avila said Tuesday, on the eve of spring training. “Whether it be a major-league contract or a minor-league with a (spring training invite), I’m not really sure. But we’re definitely looking. … I think one more starter would be ideal.”

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The Tigers have also shown interest in a reunion with right-hander Rick Porcello, according to a report Friday from MLB.com. An agreement is unlikely, the Free Press has since learned, because the sides can’t seem to agree on contract terms.

Porcello pitched for the Tigers from 2009-14. He is a 12-year MLB veteran with a career 4.40 ERA across nearly 2,100 innings. The 32-year-old signed a one-year, $10 million contract with the New York Mets last offseason, and then posted a 5.64 ERA through 12 starts and 59 innings in 2020.

Still, what does Hinch think about the Tigers possibly adding more arms?

“It’s a balancing act with the messaging,” Hinch said. “As a manager, you want as many options as possible and as much competition as possible. Inside that clubhouse, I want these players to know we have enough quality and quantity. It’s out of their control whether we add players, but I’m not going to look my players in the face or be quoted saying we need more pitching.

“That’s not showing confidence in the group that we have. If we think there are guys out there that fit what we’re doing and deserve the opportunity, and we want to pay them, that’s fine. Showing up to work every day, I’m not looking at what we don’t have. … We got guys that can do a good job.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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