Last but not least, Tigers’ Casey Mize eager to finally make his 2021 debut

Detroit News

Detroit — Manager AJ Hinch saw Casey Mize in the clubhouse on Sunday.

“I was thinking about something,” Hinch told him. “You’re going to be the last player on the roster to play.”

Mize, who recalled the story Monday morning with a chuckle, just looked down and said, “I don’t know how I feel about that, AJ. It’s OK. It is what it is. It does feel like it’s been a while. I feel like I could’ve pitched three days ago.”

Mize, the first overall pick in the draft back in 2018, certainly isn’t accustomed to going last, or being No. 5 in a rotation. But that’s just his start point this season, not his end point.

“I’m ready to go,” he said. “I really enjoyed Opening Day. Miggy hitting that home run in the snow off (Shane) Bieber — I don’t know if I will ever forget that moment. And Akil (Baddoo) yesterday hitting that home run — I’ll never forget that. It was a great week for me just sitting and watching what Major League Baseball is almost about with fans in the stands.

“But I can’t wait to get out there and get my season going.”

Mize, still a rookie despite making seven starts last season, will kick off the 2021 season Tuesday against a team that kicked him around pretty good last season. The Minnesota Twins loaded up their lineup with left-handed hitters against him and in three games scored 11 runs in 11.2 innings against him.

Left-handers overall, in the short sample size, did significant damage against him — hitting 100 points higher than right-handers (.300 vs. .200) and slugging more than 300 points higher (.633 vs. .309).

Mize is eager to show his beefed-up attack plan, which if he executes should be the same against lefties and righties.

“It’s improved for the fact that I feel more confident in my ability to throw more pitches for strikes,” he said. “I can attack lefties and all players with more stuff than I had last year. I was pretty much limited because I didn’t have the feel for the stuff I would’ve liked to throw.

“Now I’m in a position where I feel I can land a lot of (pitches) for strikes which is going to allow me to execute our game plan better.”

Lefties last year feasted on his sinker (.417 average, 1.000 slugging), slider and even his split-finger pitch (.269). He had much better success with those pitches against right-handers. But that’s not even the point.

When he’s right, Mize doesn’t need to use different arsenals against lefties or righties.

“There’s some days when I don’t have the breaking ball or another pitch isn’t as sharp but going into a game I want to throw everything to everybody,” he said. “Obviously there are certain hitters, doesn’t matter if they are right-handed or left-handed, that I’m going to game plan for. So and so hits fastballs down and away so avoid that. That kind of thing.

“But I feel like I can pour in all my pitches to both sides of the plate — lefties or righties.”

The splitter is his marquee pitch, of course, so he watched Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani pitch with interest Sunday on ESPN. Ohtani’s splitter is very different than the one Mize throws. It’s harder, 90-92 mph, and it tumbles almost like a knuckleball.

“Unreal,” was how Mize described it. “The spin is a little different. I’ve not seen his grip, but he throws the crap out of it — 92 off 101 mph (fastball). He’s a special player.”

Mize’s splitter, which he throws at 85-86 mph, has more true spin and out of the hand looks like a two-seam or four-seam fastball.

“It’s more of a high-efficiency spin,” Mize said. “If I were to guess, Shohei’s splitter is more low-efficiency (spin), more of a knuckleball spin, and the bottom just falls out of it.”

The only similarity between the two splitters is they are nasty.

Twins at Tigers

First pitch: 1:10 p.m. Tuesday, Comerica Park, Detroit

TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM

Scouting report

LHP J.A. Happ (no record), Twins: The Tigers have had success against this 38-year-old over the years. The Tigers have hit .284 with an .829 OPS in 12 games against him. Since he turned 33, he’s gone 61-31 with a 3.77 ERA and a 1.2 WHIP.

RHP Casey Mize (no record), Tigers: Mize faced the Twins three times in his seven starts last year and they weren’t pretty. They chased him early in all three starts and scored 11 runs off him in 11.2 innings.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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