Casey Mize didn’t need a scouting report on Blue Jays prospect Josh Palacios before his start Friday. They were teammates and good friends during Mize’s freshman year at Auburn, so Mize knew Palacios liked to jump first pitches.
“Before I go out there, I’m talking to [pitching coach Chris Fetter],” Mize said. “I’m like, ‘Hey, he’s an aggressive guy. He’s always been aggressive against me. I want to throw him a first-pitch breaking ball.’”
At the same, Mize didn’t want to fall behind hitters like he has often done this spring. So he threw Palacios a curveball in the zone, hoping he’d be looking for a fastball. As Palacios sent Mize’s first pitch of the fourth inning 428 feet to right field, complete with a 108.6 mph exit velocity, Mize would be excused if he’d cursed his luck.
“He’s going to be texting me after the game for sure, which sucks,” Mize said. “My plan obviously didn’t work, but I executed it, which is just frustrating. But it is what it is. If it had to be anybody, I guess, I’m glad it was Pilo.”
The leadoff homer in the fourth came two innings after 5-foot-8 catcher Alejandro Kirk turned an 0-2 fastball up and out of the zone into an opposite-field home run to right.
This is the conundrum with Mize, the No. 2 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s just-updated Tigers list, and the former No. 1 Draft pick’s frustrating Spring Training. After walking three batters in each of his first three starts, Mize pounded the strike zone against an aggressive Blue Jays lineup. He paid for it with three first-pitch hits, accounting for nearly half his eight hits allowed.
As manager A.J. Hinch went to the mound to take the ball with two outs in the fourth inning, four runs in and another in scoring position, he gave the young right-hander some words of encouragement.
“I did tell him on the mound: I don’t think the results matched the stuff today,” Hinch said after the Tigers’ 8-1 loss. “I thought his stuff was really, really good. There were some positive things; steps forward. A couple of bad-ball base hits, both the home run and the last hitter, I think both were balls that he threw that ended up being damage. And quite honestly, I don’t think we played good enough defense behind him. We didn’t finish plays.”
Mize’s numbers would have been worse if not for a good example of damage control in the third. After two singles and a walk loaded the bases with nobody out, Mize battled Rowdy Tellez for eight pitches, culminating in a 98.7 mph sinker — his hardest pitch this spring — for a sacrifice fly to left. He followed with a first-pitch sinker that Kirk took, then came back with a slider that Kirk grounded for an inning-ending double play.
Mize’s numbers for the spring are similar. He has 12 strikeouts in 10 innings, but also 10 walks. He has allowed 11 runs on 12 hits, including four homers in his last two starts, for a 9.90 ERA.
“I’m going to look at it from two different standpoints,” Mize said. “I’m going to take the positives and really be happy with the work I put in and know the progression I’m making. And then I’ve got to look at the negative stuff and try to do the same with that and try to flip the script there.”
Turnbull out due to COVID protocols
What looked like the countdown to a potential Opening Day start for Spencer Turnbull is now a wait to get the Tigers’ right-hander back to pitching again.
Turnbull was in line to pitch again this weekend, but he is now being held out of the Tigertown complex due to COVID-19 protocols.
“He’s not at the facility today, and he won’t be here for the coming days due to COVID protocols,” Hinch said Friday morning.
“He didn’t break a protocol or anything like that,” Hinch said. “He’s just, you know, we’re adhering to the protocols that are put in front of us, and he can’t come to the complex right now.”
Hinch didn’t specify a timetable for Turnbull’s return, saying he won’t be in camp “for the coming days.” Short was out for five days and missed a week of action. Garcia’s inning of work Tuesday against the Yankees was his first game appearance in 11 days.
If Turnbull follows a similar schedule, he should be ready in time for the season. Whether he’ll be ready for one of the first couple of games is another matter.
“We’re not sure yet,” Hinch said. “Obviously he’s not here at the workouts and not doing his ‘pens and not pitching in this rotation. So we’re going to have to navigate that on a day-by-day basis.”
Welcome back, fans
The state of Michigan’s announcement that sports teams including the Tigers could have up to 20 percent capacity in outdoor stadiums was welcome news for players and coaches who played last season in a virtually empty Comerica Park.
“I’m really excited for my team, for the fans in Detroit. They deserve this,” Jeimer Candelario said. “I will say we’re going to enjoy the most that we can, and we want to put a really good performance for our fans, for the teams, so they can enjoy it.”
Hinch said he’s thankful the state looked into the situation after originally setting the capacity at 1,000 fans. The Tigers have played Spring Training home games at Joker Marchant Stadium in front of about 2,000 fans, or 20 percent capacity.
“We’re showing down here that we can play in front of fans and do it safely,” Hinch said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do to ensure that continues, but what a great breath of fresh air for us to know that Tigers fans are going to get to come to the ballpark and enjoy some normalcy as we build back to completely normal hopefully sometime this summer.”
• Reliever Gregory Soto hit or topped 100 mph on at least four pitches in a clean 13-pitch inning Friday, striking out one batter and inducing two groundouts. “He’s really incredible,” Hinch said. “He beats people in the strike zone, and then when he gets ahead, he beats people out of the strike zone.”
• Hinch said the Tigers have made note of their offensive struggles after recording four hits and 14 strikeouts Friday. They’ve scored two runs or fewer against the opposing starter in each of their past 11 games. “It looks like we’re in between pitches,” Hinch said. “Our situational hitting has been less than perfect, and we’re getting beat late in counts that we want to be a little bit better at. I don’t know that it’s a red alarm yet, but it’s something that we need to obviously address.”