LAKELAND, Fla. — The numbers don’t paint a majestic picture for Detroit Tigers right-hander Casey Mize: Eight hits, one walk, five earned runs and five strikeouts across 3⅔ innings Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Neither do the 23-year-old’s numbers through four outings in spring training: 12 hits, 10 walks, 11 earned runs and 12 strikeouts in 10 innings. Yet Mize and manager AJ Hinch uncovered positive takeaways from the former No. 1 overall pick’s most recent start.
“I don’t think the results matched the stuff today,” Hinch said Friday. “I thought his stuff was really, really good. There were some positive things stepping forward. … Ended up being a bad day in the box score for him, but I was actually encouraged by how he came out of the gate in the first inning and then ultimately some of the stuff he was throwing.”
For starters, Mize only issued one walk. He allowed three in each of his first three games this spring. The lone free pass Friday came in the third inning, when he missed at the top of the strike zone with a 97.4 mph sinker to Joe Panik on a full count.
His command improved.
“Definitely pounding the strike zone more,” Mize said Friday. “The two-seamer, I did a really good job throwing that glove side to lefties. That was just an awesome pitch for me today.”
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Mize used 40 sinkers, 11 sliders, seven splitters, seven curveballs and seven four-seam fastballs. He got seven swings-and-misses: four with his sinker, two with his slider and one with his four-seamer. His fastball averaged 96.5 mph and reached 98.7 mph, a massive leap from his 93.6 mph average last season.
His first three strikeouts Friday caught the betters looking. He got Jonathan Davis (84.1 mph curveball) and Rowdy Tellez (96.2 mph sinker) in the first inning and Josh Palacios (97 mph sinker) in the second inning before Forrest Wall swung at a 97.5 mph sinker to end the second frame.
“Really just trying to focus on filling up the strike zone,” Mize said. “It’s something I need to recognize and try to balance out. Today, I took a step forward in that area. I need to be able to expand and make some quality pitches outside of the zone, as well.”
But Mize wound up in a third-inning jam.
Singles by Davis and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. sandwiched around Panik’s walk loaded the bases with no outs. He got Tellez on a sacrifice fly to left field, and then induced a double play. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop fielded the grounder, stepped on second and tossed down to first baseman Niko Goodrum to help limit the damage.
“We don’t want to be in those situations as pitchers, but if we’re going to be, now is the time to do it,” Mize said. “Really proud of the way I worked out of it. … We were shifted perfectly. That was a positive, for sure.”
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There were negatives, too.
Mize allowed a second-inning homer to Alejandro Kirk on an 0-2 count. Kirk got ahold of his 94.9 mph four-seam fastball up above the strike zone and sent it beyond the right-field wall for a 1-0 lead.
He also gave up a first-pitch home run to Palacios, his teammate at Auburn, to begin the fourth inning. After responding with two outs, Mize gave up back-to-back doubles to Wall and Davis. He reached 72 pitches (49 strikes) on Davis’ double, so Hinch pulled him from the game with two outs.
“The ball started creeping up a little bit in the third and fourth inning instead of staying really true through the zone,” Mize said. “Honestly, the box score shows a pretty tough day, but I definitely think the stuff was great. And I was feeling really good.”