‘You walk on eggshells on a day like this:’ Tigers end spring camp with 5-0 loss to Rays; head to Detroit

Detroit News

Lakeland, Florida – Goodbye, spring camp.

When the Tigers reconvene at TigerTown in 2022 they pray all the issues and inconveniences that haunted them the past year will be tucked into a pandemic’s history.

No more COVID-19 masks. No more puny, socially distanced crowds at Publix Field. No more rules against stopping by a restaurant after the game for dinner, a simple pleasure denied MLB players and staffers this year as stiff rules were imposed, all in a bid to limit coronavirus exposure.

Having survived a pandemic’s restraints, the Tigers wanted only Tuesday to escape injury as they finished their Grapefruit League season with a seven-inning, 5-0 loss to the Rays at Publix Field. They then headed for a team charter and for a flight to Detroit ahead of Thursday’s season-opener against the Indians at Comerica Park.

“You walk on eggshells on a day like this,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said after a two-hour game that was more like a scrimmage as both Detroit and Tampa Bay finished their pre-season dress-rehearsals. “I was happy it was a game where nobody got hurt on either side and both teams can get to the (regular) season.”

Apart from avoiding crutches and casts, Hinch’s main goals Tuesday were to get Casey Mize and Michael Fulmer fine-tuned. Mize is cramming for his first full season of big-league rotation work. Fulmer is adjusting to life as a reliever, which could include short or lengthier stints — at any point in a game.

Mize was more than fine: 4⅔ innings, five hits, two runs, one walk, six strikeouts in a 62-pitch turn. His two-seam fastball rode at 95-97. He had a slider that, with two strikes, whiffed a handful of Rays, including a punch-out of Randy Arozarena in the first. Arozarena rarely takes a swing as bad as Mize induced on strike three.

Mize made his mistakes, as well, which included a hard lesson in big-league pitch-sequencing in the second.

After going 0-and-2 on Joey Wendle, Mize threw a two-seamer at 97 that Wendle fouled off. He came back with an 87-mph slider that Wendle roped into the right-field corner for a double.

“Didn’t bury it in the bottom of the zone,” Mize said. “He was able to put a barrel on it and pull it down the line. Just something I’ve got to execute better.”

Mize was still pitching a shutout in the fifth until Manuel Margot turned a single into a sprint-and-stretch double. A bunt single put two on and, with two out, inviting Hinch to summon Fulmer — purposely to see what Fulmer might do with an inherited-runners situation.

Brett Sullivan’s double off the bag at first scored both runners and left Mize’s pitching line messier than it might have been.

Hinch wasn’t bothered.

“Casey was pretty good today,” Hinch said, adding that getting Mize into a fifth inning, ahead of plans to start him in the Tigers’ fifth regular-season game, was imperative.

“He worked on a couple of things. I specifically liked the way he controlled the running game.”

The running-game focus was on stage in Tampa Bay’s half of the third.

After one-time Tigers farmhand Willy Adames slapped a Mize slider deep against the left-center field fence for a leadoff double, Mize thought it a choice time to get a pickoff at second.

He wheeled once and just missed as Adames beat the tag. He came back a second time and the ball caromed off shortstop Willi Castro’s glove, bouncing to second baseman Niko Goodrum, who relayed to third base as the Tigers put away Adames.

“I thought he battled pretty well,” Hinch said of Mize’s overall work. “He’s starting to understand his strengths in pitching ahead. He was very efficient today.

“He got some swings-and-misses with all his pitches and he got out of the outing healthy.

“All of those were huge priorities today.”

BULLPEN UPS AND DOWNS

Fulmer was socked for Sullivan’s double in the fifth, as well as a ground single before wiping out Mike Brosseau on four pitches, all strikes, including two-seamers at 94-95.

Matt Manning had a tougher inning, allowing a pair of runs on two hits, and two walks, while striking out one.

Drew Hutchison finished with a scoreless final inning that included a strikeout.

RISKY BUSINESS

Hinch on how a manager’s nerves are tested in a final spring-camp game when health is priority No. 1:

“You can’t ask players to play with governors on them,” he said. “Basically, all bad things can happen today. It doesn’t give you a path to not compete, or a path to not execute a game plan.

“But your mind is on what happens 48 hours from now (Thursday, Opening Day). We’re playing the Indians at Comerica Park and the only thing that can change that is something happening that screws up today, health-wise.”

AROUND THE HORN

… The Tigers had four hits, three singles and a double by Victor Reyes.

… The Tigers finished their Grapefruit League season with a 13-12 record, ties not being recognized in MLB’s tabulations.

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