Detroit faithful to get first look at Mize

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — Casey Mize made his Major League debut on Aug. 19, 2020, and he finished with seven starts that season. Yet, pitching in front of fans at Comerica Park for the first time on Tuesday might well feel like his debut.

Mize has taken in the atmosphere for four games. Now, it’s his turn.

“I really enjoyed Opening Day,” Mize said. “Miggy [Cabrera] hitting that homer off [Indians starter Shane] Bieber, I don’t know if I’ll ever forget that moment. Akil [Baddoo] hitting that homer [Sunday], I’ll never forget that. It’s just been a great week for me, just to be able to sit back and watch and enjoy what Major League Baseball is almost really like with fans in the stands. It’s just been really enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to stepping out there and having fans out there and pitching. I can’t wait.”

He’ll have a new atmosphere, but a familiar foe. Three of Mize’s seven starts last season pitted him against the Twins. He racked up 11 strikeouts over 11 2/3 innings, but he also allowed 11 runs. Mize planned to look back at video of those outings and see what lessons he could learn to translate into the way he throws now.

“Obviously, the way I feel and how my stuff’s playing is a lot different than what I was showing last year,” Mize said. “So the performance that I showed on those hitters, it’s all different now.”

Mize is a different pitcher in part for the adjustments he made in the offseason, but also for the work he put into Spring Training to win back a rotation spot, a prospect that looked shaky up until his final couple of outings. He walked 10 batters and allowed 11 runs over 10 innings in his first four Grapefruit League starts, but he settled in for two strong outings to end his spring, striking out 15 batters over 8 2/3 innings.

For the spring, Mize finished with 27 strikeouts over 18 2/3 innings. His pitches, manager A.J. Hinch said repeatedly, were better than the results. But Mize also performed when put under pressure to win a spot, which is what Hinch wanted to present to the Tigers’ pitching prospects.

“As a player, all you can ask for is an opportunity,” Mize said. “Super pumped about that, and working really to try to perform to win the job. The performance wasn’t there early on for sure, definitely disappointed in that. But the people who are making the decisions have the ability to see through some of that.”

The Tigers haven’t had personal catchers for pitchers in years, and Hinch isn’t a fan of the personal-catcher concept. But Grayson Greiner’s work with Mize and Tarik Skubal in Spring Training has made him a preferred option when the two youngsters are on the mound, at least for now.

Greiner caught Skubal’s season debut Sunday, and he is expected to do the same for Mize on Tuesday.

“I don’t even know if it’s going to be that way forever,” Hinch said Monday. “I’m not a big personal catcher supporter all the time. I like to have my options whenever I can as a manager. But it happened over the course of the spring. Specifically Greiner and Skubal, I liked how they started working together.”

Skubal said their chemistry goes back to last season.

“A lot of the games, we were able to sit together and talk throughout a whole game of just baseball stuff like that, different scenarios of different parts of the games,” Skubal said. “I put myself in the pitcher’s shoes — What pitch would I throw here? What pitch would you think about throwing here? — just kind of those little things to build off that chemistry and just talk baseball.”

Mize complimented Greiner’s prep work.

“Really smart, does his homework,” Mize said. “I feel confident in him back there, because I know he knows the hitters better than I do. The confidence in that is great. And he’s a big body back there, too, so with a runner on third base, I feel comfortable burying the ball, because I know he’s going to block it.”

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