Bradenton, Fla. — Roster debates as the Tigers get ready for Opening Day were trimmed, a bit dramatically Friday, when manager AJ Hinch announced Casey Mize had made his starting rotation, and that Derek Holland and Michael Fulmer have won bullpen jobs.
Mize struck out nine in four innings in Thursday night’s game against the Blue Jays as he unveiled the power and finesse that three years ago made him the MLB Draft’s first-overall pick.
Holland, 34, and a left-handed specialist, has had a stunning spring, pitching in seven games spanning eight innings. He has not allowed a run, has struck out 13, while walking one. Holland was signed to a minor-league contract and space must be cleared on the Tigers’ 40-man roster, a move Hinch said would be decided later.
Fulmer’s role will, Hinch said, will be as a reliever. But, he said, a shift into occasional, or more regular, starts also is an option.
Mize will now be part of an early April rotation that includes Matthew Boyd, Tarik Skubal, Julio Teheran, Jose Urena, and Spencer Turnbull, who will begin April’s initial days of the 2021 season rehabbing from a short stay on MLB’s COVID-19 injured list.
Hinch said Thursday night’s mastery from Mize was significant, and perhaps more reassuring than pivotal as a 24-year-old right-handed prodigy proved he belonged, for now, in Detroit.
“It was the way he pitched with two strikes,” Hinch said. “We think Mize has pitched better than his numbers this spring. Last night, he proved to himself more than he proved to us that working out of the strike zone was much more advantageous than dancing around the zone and trying to get outs that way.”
Holland, a starter throughout most of his 13 big-league seasons, wowed the Tigers each and every time he took the ball in his seven Grapefruit League auditions. A move to the bullpen, which Holland had shown he could handle last season with the Pirates, convinced Detroit’s front office to give him a shot at a relief niche Hinch believes is a fit, with flexibility.
“He outpitched everybody he was in competition with,” Hinch said, adding that what Detroit saw from him in Pittsburgh in 2020, as a reliever, was a trend that continued this month in Florida. “We liked his velocity, liked his strikeout increase. We think he can be a short reliever, or long reliever, even though I hate that term.
“But he pitched his way onto our team, and the data supported the transition he’s made. He has more power, with a better breaking ball. He threw a 94-mph sinker out of nowhere the other days.
“He has some stuff to work with,” Hinch said. “He’s pushed guys off the roster, and off this team”
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Mize did the same, sidestepping a possible hitch at minor-league camp that appeared to be more than a possibility until he settled matters with Thursday night’s near-virtuoso.
“He never stopped throwing strikes,” Hinch said, drawing special attention to a 12-pitch at-bat by Toronto’s Cavan Biggio. “Early in camp, he danced around the strike zone. And, quite honestly, I’m glad he scuffled a bit and got punished for it.”
Fulmer, like Holland, began as a starter but now has a bullpen job that, Hinch said, could be single or multiple innings. Or, in Fulmer’s case, could see him start.
He struck out seven in four innings Thursday against the Blue Jays.
“With Michael Fulmer, I think we’ve found something,” said Hinch, “with him pitching with conviction out of the ‘pen. “His stuff has ticked up a bit, and he’s spread out his pitch-usage. But Michael Fulmer is a big-league pitcher and deserves to be here. There was no reason to send him down.”
In another move Thursday, apart from pitching personnel, the Tigers optioned outfielder Daz Cameron to minor-league camp.
The Tigers were to meet the Pirates in a 1 p.m. game Friday at McKechnie Field.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and a retired Detroit News sportswriter.