Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press
BRADENTON, Fla. — Detroit Tigers right-hander Casey Mize strolled out of the bullpen Tuesday at LECOM Park with catcher Grayson Greiner and pitching coach Chris Fetter by his side.
Last year, Mize made his seven starts in his MLB debut season. His command, seemingly for the first time in his life, failed him. He got behind in too many counts and gave up too many walks.
This offseason, Fetter told Mize to pound the strike zone.
Mize pitched two scoreless innings — with no hits, three walks and three strikeouts — in his first spring training appearance against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Tigers won, 6-1, and the 23-year-old was pleased with his overall performance.
“I thought the stuff was really good,” Mize said. “I wasn’t really spraying. I had three walks, which I’m not happy about, but I didn’t feel like I didn’t have control of anything. I feel like I was controlling everything.”
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Of Mize’s nine batters faced, he showed his best work against Gregory Polanco, just after a six-pitch walk to Bryan Reynolds. Working a 2-2 count, he tossed three straight pitches in or near the strike zone — forcing Polanco to foul them away — before sending an 88.7 mph splitter down and away for a punch out.
Another highlight came in the second inning, following an eight-pitch walk to Todd Frazier. That’s when Mize launched three pitches in or near the strike zone — a 95.7 mph fastball, 82.6 mph curveball and 95.5 mph fastball — to ring up Jacob Stallings.
“The thing with the Frazier at-bat, I walked him on that slider … I think the slider wasn’t a bad call, just really got to throw that in for a strike,” Mize said. “Because he’s good enough to just see that one down. If I could take that back, I really would have tried to pour that slider into the zone and not bury it.
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“It wasn’t a bad pitch, but maybe it would have got a more aggressive, younger hitter to swing through it. But then I got back in there and just tried to fill it back up. I hate walking guys, so when that happens, I’m (facing) the next guy just really trying to fill up the zone.”
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Mize threw 45 pitches, of which 25 went for strikes. He is getting more comfortable with his curveball. He is inching close to getting his four-seam fastball and curveball to come out of the same tunnel. (This means they look the same coming out of his hand for as long as possible.) He also wants his two-seam fastball, slider and splitter to look similar before breaking.
In his first spring training start, Mize got ahead in the count quickly against most of his opponents, but Hinch said he got “a little bit excited” and attempted to log a surplus of strikeouts. That’s when foul balls and pitches just outside of the zone put Mize in some trouble.
“He has the ability of any of our guys to be the most unpredictable given that he’s got a lot of weapons and when to use them,” Hinch said. “I know he expects perfection out of himself, but it was a solid outing, albeit with a few too many walks.”
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Mize finished the 2020 season with a 6.99 ERA and 1.482 WHIP, with 26 strikeouts and 13 walks.
Fulmer to pitch Saturday?
Right-hander Michael Fulmer went back to Oklahoma last week for the birth of his second child and is expected to return soon. Hinch hopes he can get back to camp, after going through the COVID-19 intake screening again, and pitch Saturday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota.
“Everything is going well at home,” Hinch said. “In a perfect-case scenario, that’s the plan. If we have to bump him a day, so bit it, but that’s the goal.”
Three players nearing activation, waiting on Schoop
First baseman Renato Nunez, outfielder Nomar Mazara and outfielder Victor Reyes have arrived in Lakeland after lengthy delays for travel and work visa reasons. Working through their five-day quarantines, they’re allowed to do individual workouts once everyone else departs from the facility.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, however, has yet to arrive. Hinch communicated via text messages with Schoop, who is working with the government in Curacao to get clearance to enter the U.S. for work.
“He wants to be here,” Hinch said. “But there’s a process.”
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While Mazara, Reyes and Schoop are locked in to make the roster, Nunez must compete for the opening at first base. He hit .247 with 43 homers and 121 RBIs across 203 games in the last two seasons for the Baltimore Orioles.
Yet most of his experience came as the designated hitter. The Tigers need to get him in-game reps at first base — because Miguel Cabrera occupies the DH — before they will decide if he breaks camp on the 26-man squad.
Third baseman Isaac Paredes, only recently activated and in a roster-spot battle, has been held out of games for a few days to get him acclimated to the workouts. The same is expected for Nunez.
“It’s not at that moment of anxiousness yet, but you get to that first off day (March 8), now you’re starting to talk about three weeks until you break camp,” Hinch said. “Then you get to the second off day (March 18), and we’re talking about 10 days. Those are more important dates for me to make sure guys are making a push.”
Also, right-hander Wily Peralta is still not in Lakeland.
Teheran’s pitching schedule
Right-hander Julio Teheran tossed a bullpen Friday, and before he can get into games, Hinch needs him to throw a live batting practice — happening Tuesday or Wednesday. The 30-year-old is a bounce-back candidate on a minor-league contract.
“The earliest that I could see him pitching is the day before the off day (March 8),” Hinch said, “but that’s in pencil, given how he feels coming out and how we see him coming out of his live BP session.”
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Perez throws live BP
Right-hander Franklin Perez pitched a live BP session a couple of days ago. The Tigers are scheduling him for another one before deciding “whether or not we want to put him in a game,” Hinch said. The 23-year-old missed almost all of the 2018 and 2019 seasons with injuries, combining for nine outings and 27 innings.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.