Chicago — The topic was rookie right-hander Casey Mize, who went into his start against the White Sox Thursday having been tagged for 11 runs in 9⅔ innings in the previous two.
“He’s a perfectionist by nature,” manager AJ Hinch said before the game. “I don’t think mental fortitude is in question. I think the acceptance that there is a failure component to the game and that you have to move on and don’t drag a pitch into the next rep.
“That’s something he is going to continue to battle himself with.”
Mize was brilliant for four innings, locking horns with arguably the stingiest pitcher in baseball, lefty Carlos Rodon. And then he got beat in the fifth when the White Sox scored three times and rode it to a 3-1 win in the first of two seven-inning games at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“Really frustrating,” said Mize, who struck out six in six innings. “Obviously I’ve had a lot of not great starts to begin my career, but this might be one of, if not the most, disappointing one for me. Just because I felt like I was throwing the ball well and the fifth just got away from me.”
Mize had a 1-0 lead through four innings. The only blemish at that point was a double by catcher Zack Collins, who went to third on a sacrifice bunt by Billy Hamilton. Mize responded to that challenge by striking out Leury Garcia and Tim Anderson.
The failure component arose in the fifth. He gave up a single on a 1-2 count to Jake Lamb and that seemed to knock him off kilter.
“I tried to elevate a fastball on 1-2 and I left it over the heart of the plate and he was able to pull it,” Mize said. “If I execute that pitch, maybe those two walks don’t happen.”
But they did. He walked Andrew Vaughn and Collins. A ground out by Hamilton scored one run and then Garcia laced a first-pitch splitter into center field, scoring two more.
“I just lost a little command,” Mize said. “But you load the bases like that, you’re in a bad spot.”
It’s been a continuing theme for Mize. He has an 8.22 ERA in the fourth through sixth innings. Either he’s making the wrong adjustments the second and third time through the order, or he isn’t making any.
“In this era of baseball, we micromanage every single outing as if it’s Game 7 of the World Series and that’s the way he pitches,” Hinch said. “We can simplify it for him. But I’ve got to be honest, he’s got enough weapons where it’s not going to be one size fits all every single time.
“It comes down to execution and not making mistakes.”
Three runs was a comfortable margin for Rodon, who had allowed just one earned run in 19 innings before Thursday. Other than a tiny spot of bother in the fourth inning, Rodon dominated the Tigers. He posted a career-best 12 strikeouts in just six innings of work.
Rodon got 12 swings-and-misses and seven called strikes with a four-seam fastball that had a velocity range between 90-98 mph. He got six more whiffs with a change-up.
The Tigers got one nick on him. Robbie Grossman led off the fourth with a sharp single to left and stole second. With two outs, Jonathan Schoop laced a double inside the bag at third scoring Grossman.
It didn’t get any easy for the Tigers when Rodon left after six. Liam Hendriks, firing 97-mph bullets, closed it out with a clean ninth inning.
But there was a positive takeaway from Mize’s performance: Hinch sent him back out for the sixth inning and stuck with him after he gave up a leadoff double to Yoan Moncada.
“I appreciate him putting his trust in me,” Mize said. “I think he saw I was throwing fine. …But I appreciate that opportunity even with that first-pitch double. He allowed me to work through that.”
Mize didn’t get rattled. He didn’t turtle. He moved on, impressively, getting Jose Abreu to ground out then punching out Lamb and Vaughn.
It ended up being a quality start.
“Casey has every bit of the mental fortitude the other guys do,” Hinch said. “His reaction to not executing is part of the growth for him. There’s a fine line between just shrugging your shoulders and saying you missed a pitch and bearing down and realizing that pitch is gone and you’ve got to move on to the next pitch.”
He’s getting it.