Why AJ Hinch said Detroit Tigers SP Casey Mize ‘gets what it takes to be elite’

Detroit Free Press

Casey Mize wasn’t proud of his most recent start.

He said it was the “most disappointing” game of his young MLB career, which includes a 6.05 ERA in 12 appearances between the 2020 and 2021 seasons. On Thursday, he allowed three runs across six innings in a 3-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox in Game 1 of a seven-inning doubleheader.

“That’s pretty harsh on himself,” Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “I didn’t know he said that. I haven’t been here for all his starts, but it wasn’t the most disappointing start this year. I love that he holds himself to a high bar. You want to make sure it’s not just all negative all the time, whenever things don’t go perfectly. But I’ll never complain about a player holding himself to a higher bar than anybody else around them.”

Frankly, Mize’s performance was the only tastes of positivity Thursday, as the Tigers (8-18) were demolished 11-0 in Game 2 at Guaranteed Rate Field. They have lost 12 of their past 14 games.

In 14 total innings, the offense was 5-for-47 (.106) with one run, one walk and 22 strikeouts during the doubleheader.

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Not a lot of good to pick from.

But Mize stood out, for a few reasons.

“That’s a great sign of a guy who gets what it takes to be elite at this level,” Hinch said. “He’s got to keep working and get on to the next start in Boston.”

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Mize planned to pitch Wednesday night, but rain in Chicago pushed his start back to Thursday. The rookie, who turns 24 years old Saturday, sent down Tim Anderson, Adam Eaton and Yoan Moncada in a row on 10 pitches in the first inning.

He got swings-and-misses with all five of his pitches: four-seam fastball (four whiffs), slider (three), curveballs (three), sinkers (two), and splitter (one). His fastball topped out at 96 mph. On the other side, White Sox starter Carlos Rodon struck out 12 batters in six innings of one-run ball.

“I liked my stuff today, for the most part,” Mize said. “You know, aside from the fifth.”

Before the fifth, Mize found himself in a tough spot in the third inning. Zack Collins hit a leadoff double and Billy Hamilton advanced him to third base on a sacrifice bunt. He proceeded to strike out Leury Garcia on a foul tip and Anderson swinging for three outs and no runs allowed.

Mize retired three consecutive batters — Eaton, Moncada and Abreu — for a speedy fourth inning.

‘Just a little spark’

“I felt like I was throwing the ball well, but the fifth got away from me,” Mize said. “Gave up a 1-2 (single) to (Jake) Lamb that he pulls. Just didn’t execute that pitch. Then I walked two in a row. Disappointing because I felt like I threw the ball pretty well. It just really sucks.”

Lamb singled to right field on a two-strike fastball. Andrew Vaughn drew a five-pitch walk. Zack Collins took a four-pitch walk. Just like that: Bases loaded, no outs.

“That’s just a little spark that shouldn’t have happened if I execute a pitch,” Mize said of Lamb’s single. 

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Hinch added: “I thought he was really good, right up until the Lamb base hit, and then he started to spray the ball a little bit and had to pitch under a little bit of duress.”

Hamilton grounded out to drive in Chicago’s first run, as first baseman Miguel Cabrera bobbled the ball. His mistake allowed Lamb to score easily; Cabrera had to tag first base instead of going for the force out at home plate.

Then Garcia hit a first-pitch splitter to center field for a two-run single, giving the White Sox a 3-1 lead with two outs in the fifth inning.

“In that situation (against Garcia), a lot of guys are swinging at the first pitch with runners in scoring position,” Mize said. “I just should’ve buried that pitch instead of leaving it in the zone. It was just too elevated.”

Development inning

Since coming to the majors, Mize has struggled to get his command back after a tough inning or series of batters.

But the former No. 1 overall pick was able to lock back in Thursday: Anderson flied out to left field on a sharp first-pitch slider and Eaton struck out swinging on a curveball to end the fifth inning. He escaped further damage, so Hinch sent him back out for the sixth inning. Even after a leadoff double by Moncada, Hinch kept Mize on the mound to face Abreu.

“It’s a development inning for him,” Hinch said. “We want him to do well, but he was throwing the ball as well as he’s thrown in the last couple of weeks.”

The Tigers were still in the game, trailing by two runs, but Hinch thought Mize could pitch deeper.

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It took Mize five pitches to get Abreu to ground out for the first out. He battled with Lamb — his single in the fifth ignited Mize’s problems — for seven pitches but struck him out looking in a 3-2 count with a 95 mph fastball. He got ahead 0-2 and punched out Vaughn with another 95 mph fastball to conclude his 87-pitch outing.

Although the Tigers lost, Mize pitched a six-inning complete game. He understands how to learn from the good and bad. He wants to win.

But he is hard on himself for his team’s loss. He understood how effective he was to all but roughly five batters. Earlier this week, Hinch called him a “perfectionist by nature.”

“He doesn’t have to be perfect right now,” Hinch said in spring training. “He just needs to go compete with this stuff.”

That’s why Mize finishing the job after some command issues was an encouraging sign.

“If he wants to be a dude at this level, he’s got to navigate some traffic and stay in the game,” Hinch said. “Pitch count was under control. Competitively, he was throwing the ball great. Even when I had (reliever Bryan) Garcia (warming) up that inning, he paints 95 (mph) inside. Like, he was throwing the ball great.

“And if you want to be elite at this level, that’s another example of what’s necessary.”

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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