Detroit Tigers stock watch: Casey Mize starting to meet expectations as former No. 1 pick

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers are getting ready to return home.

Following Sunday’s clash with the Oakland Athletics, they will have completed a 10-game road trip filled with good and bad. During this journey, the Tigers — with a 6-9 record entering Sunday — have shown they may be a streaky but competitive team this year.

Manager AJ Hinch’s squad was miserably swept by Cleveland to start the road trip but responded by sweeping American League West-favorite Houston Astros.

“I try not to look too far into that roller coaster ride,” Hinch said Thursday, following an 8-4 series-opening loss to the A’s.

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After a break Monday, the Tigers take on the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday to start a three-game series at Comerica Park.

These players are trending up and down entering Sunday after 15 games, just 9.3% of the way through the 2021 season.

Stock up

Jeimer Candelario

The Tigers entered this season curious about Candelario’s long-term value. If he performs well, he could be a contract extension candidate. If not, he might be on the way out.

Through 15 games, he is hitting 17-for-58 (.293) with one home run, seven RBIs, seven walks and 13 strikeouts. From April 10 through Thursday, he recorded a six-game hitting streak. Hinch has used him as the full-time third baseman, choosing others to fill the revolving door at first base.

“He’s got pretty quick feet,” Hinch said April 7. “He’s a third baseman by feet, not by hands. He likes to field the ball in front of him. In order to do that, you got to be pretty alert at the beginning of the play and have a good pre-pitch setup. That is a great advantage to have.”

[ How Jeimer Candelario plans to build on breakthrough 2020 season ]

Candelario’s performance last season was divided into three sections: He went 0-for-17 through the first five games, 54-for-145 (.372) across the next 40 games and 1-for-23 (.043) during the final seven contests.

Was Candelario’s production simply a 40-game hot streak, or is he a part of the future? That’s what the Tigers need to figure out.

Matthew Boyd

After Boyd’s strong first half of the 2019 season, the Tigers refused to trade him , so it was discouraging to watch his injury plagued downfall in 2020, with a 6.71 ERA.

But the 30-year-old has a 1.86 ERA, 1.086 WHIP, five walks and 14 strikeouts in 19⅓ innings.

“I love how he pounded the strike zone,” Hinch said after Boyd’s second start April 7, a 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins. “First-pitch strikes were almost automatic. I don’t think his first misfire on the first pitch was until the sixth inning. Obviously, when you pound the strike zone with that kind of conviction, good things can happen when you have your good stuff.”

[ Three ways of looking at Matthew Boyd’s second start for Tigers in 2021 ]

One of the biggest concerns about Boyd throughout his career has been giving up home runs. He paced the American League in 2019 with 39 homers allowed, and he led the majors in two categories in 2020: earned runs (45) and home runs (15).

This season, the long ball hasn’t damaged him.

And Boyd is giving his team a chance to win each time he takes the mound, just as the Tigers hoped he would when they chose not to trade him. It’s only three starts, but the early results are encouraging.

Casey Mize

There’s a lot riding on the 23-year-old to help advance the rebuild. Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter have emphasized commanding the strike zone.

This plan has worked for Mize, who surely has the highest ceiling of the pitchers.

[ How one tweak from Tigers pitching coach helped Casey Mize dominate ]

Mize has a 3.83 ERA with four walks and 13 strikeouts in 16 innings entering Sunday. He pitched seven shutout innings against a loaded Astros lineup Monday to get his first MLB win. He gave up five runs — on three home runs — in five innings against the A’s on Sunday but didn’t grant a walk.

“Really was filling up the strike zone with all his pitches,” Hinch said Monday about Mize’s start against the Astros. “His stuff is dynamic. We know that. But to see him put it together and I don’t want to say fix himself but kind of corral himself after some early scattering of the pitches. I’m very proud of him to get through seven scoreless. Big night for him.”

He is using his four-seam fastball up in the strike zone to generate swings and misses, but his slider and splitter are just as effective down in the zone. Although he doesn’t possess an overwhelming strikeout total, he is getting weak contact — just like Boyd.

Last season, Mize had a 6.99 ERA, 13 walks and 26 strikeouts in seven games and 28⅓ innings. It seems like the new coaching staff has him right where he needs to be in his development.

Stock down

Tarik Skubal

While the Tigers are certain Skubal will get back on track, the troubles through three starts this season are undeniable. He has a 6.08 ERA, nine walks and 12 strikeouts in 13⅓ innings, allowing four home runs.

The 24-year-old needed 87 pitches to get through 5⅓ innings in his first start, 75 pitches for four innings in his second start and 88 pitches for four innings on Thursday.

“It looked like he was battling himself,” Hinch said after Thursday’s 8-4 loss. “He had a lot of long at-bats. He was pretty frustrated at the end. It’s a lot of pitches in a short amount of time. He wasn’t executing, and the at-bats got longer. The theme of the whole night for Tarik was their long at-bats ended in non-contact guys getting on base.”

[ Tarik Skubal’s ‘lack of execution’ catches up to him and the Tigers ]

Last season, Skubal seemed ahead of the curve in the first eight MLB games of his career. He was arguably the most dominant starter in spring training until he lost his fastball command, which is the key to unlocking his other weapons.

Daniel Norris

Norris found his groove last season out of the bullpen. After making one start, the old coaching staff made him a reliever, and he delivered a 2.77 ERA with five walks and 28 strikeouts in 26 innings.

Despite Norris’ desire to start, Hinch believed the 27-year-old could be used in a variety of roles — from middle innings to high-leverage innings, with an occasional spot start if needed.

[ Daniel Norris recounts COVID-19 story: ‘The game changed in front of our eyes’ ]

Norris owns an 9.53 ERA and four strikeouts across 5⅔ innings, giving up six runs on 10 hits and two walks through Sunday. He got four outs on Opening Day but has since allowed six runs. He picked up a scoreless inning Saturday.

The Tigers trusted him in the seventh and eighth innings at the beginning of the season, but he has pitched in the fifth and sixth his past two appearances.

Jonathan Schoop

Schoop showed up late to spring training because of visa and travel issues from Curacao, and the delay put him at a disadvantage early.

He is 8-for-49 (.163) with two RBIs, three walks and 18 strikeouts through 14 games. Because of his strong 2020 season, Schoop’s early woes aren’t yet impacting his status as an everyday player. Plus, the Tigers invested $4.5 million to re-sign him on a one-year deal.

“I know he’s very frustrated,” Hinch said Tuesday. “He’s taking extra hitting after games, which is something I haven’t seen a lot of veteran players do, whether they’re struggling or doing well. I know he wants to make adjustments, and we need him to do that.”

[ Jonathan Schoop proves he can be a ‘difference maker’ at first base ]

Yet the Tigers can’t afford to watch him scuffle for the rest of the year, not with third baseman Isaac Paredes — a 22-year-old who adapted to second base in spring training — waiting at the alternate training site in Toledo.

Paredes might get his call-up as a reserve on the bench, but won’t have to do much to enter the lineup if Schoop keeps struggling. Last year, Paredes hit .220 in 34 games.

Schoop is an eight-year veteran and clubhouse leader, and he can play first base, so Detroit will give him plenty of time to get comfortable. But he must produce eventually.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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