DETROIT — Casey Mize put together an encouraging start to the season in part by getting his splitter, the wipeout pitch in his wide arsenal, to induce ground-ball outs. As his first-pitch splitter wandered over the plate for Royals hitter Ryan O’Hearn to line into Comerica Park’s right-field seats, it summed up Mize’s Friday night in the Tigers’ 6-2 loss.
Mize had faced every AL Central opponent in his brief career but the Royals, who greeted him with the combination of power and peskiness that has propelled them atop the division as one of baseball’s early surprises. Kansas City hit a pair of homers off Mize, continuing his long-ball woes from last week in Oakland, yet did the bulk of its damage against the former top overall Draft pick with a four-run fifth inning built on three singles, a walk, and a Jorge Soler two-run double off Mize’s 85th and final pitch.
The Royals ground out at-bats against Mize, yet made him pay for early-count pitches in the strike zone. O’Hearn’s homer was the first extra-base hit Mize allowed off his splitter this year, and he was ready for that pitch to begin an at-bat. It came two innings after O’Hearn escaped an 0-2 count to draw a leadoff walk, taking two splitters out of the zone along the way, and followed an Andrew Benintendi homer off a 1-2 fastball over the plate after Benintendi had taken two splitters for strikes. Carlos Santana accounted for Mize’s other two walks, part of Santana’s three-walk game, but also crushed a first-pitch curveball for a 103 mph line drive that Niko Goodrum snared to end the third inning.
Mize finished with six runs allowed on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings with three walks and a strikeout. He has allowed five home runs over his past two outings after holding Minnesota and Houston homerless in his first two starts. He still induced seven ground-ball outs and two double plays Friday with a strong infield defense behind him and a solid slider he used early and often, but the Royals averaged a 95.3 mph exit velocity off his splitter according to Statcast.