Why Detroit Tigers are encouraged again by Casey Mize, who ‘found a way to execute’

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers rookie Casey Mize took another step in his development with a dominant start Sunday against the Kansas City Royals.

The 24-year-old rolled through 6⅓ innings, allowing one run on three hits and one walk, with six strikeouts. But the difference came in the bottom of the ninth, well after Mize had departed when reliever Michael Fulmer allowed a two-run walk-off homer to Carlos Santana. The longtime Cleveland slugger, in his first season with the Royals, tagged a 97 mph fastball and sent it 442 feet to center field.

Santana’s blast handed the Tigers (18-28) a 3-2 loss and back-to-back defeats to conclude the three-game series at Kauffman Stadium. Detroit went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position Sunday and stranded nine runners on base.

“The bottom line is Santana hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “I mean, that’s baseball. Obviously, you got to play to the finish, and they did. He got a pitch to hit and hit it out of the ballpark. We had opportunities, they had opportunities, but they came up with the big swing at the end.”

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For most of Mize’s outing, the topic of conversation surrounded a miscue by shortstop Niko Goodrum. Kansas City’s first hit — and the only hit Mize allowed until the seventh inning — came on a one-hopper from Salvador Perez. The ball deflected off Goodrum’s glove and into left field.

What should’ve been a routine out was ruled a single, not an error.

“I thought the play should’ve been made,” Hinch said. “It was a little bit of an awkward play. I’m not an official scorekeeper, and at that point in the game, I didn’t really care. It was a tough play but a makeable play.”

Goodrum’s mistake didn’t distract Mize. After the game, he said he wasn’t thinking about losing a potential no-hitter, even as he went deep into his start without granting another hit. There have been six no-hitters in MLB this season, including Spencer Turnbull’s gem Tuesday against the Seattle Mariners.

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In the seventh inning, Mize gave up back-to-back singles to Andrew Benintendi and Perez. He got a force out to put runners on the corners with one out, and Hinch ended his outing after 86 pitches, 62 of them for strikes.

“I wanted (Ryan) O’Hearn out of the game,” Hinch said. “I knew they would (pinch) hit (Hanser) Alberto, and he’s going to be super aggressive against a guy who sprays the ball a little bit in Soto. He’s got 100 (mph) in his back pocket, and he’s got a good slider.

“I saw O’Hearn had taken some pretty good swings against Casey. Flew out to deep center field today, and he hit a homer at Comerica (Park). That was a tough matchup for a tiring Casey against a power-hitting left-handed hitter.”

Alberto flied out into a sacrifice fly-turned-double play, from right fielder Robbie Grossman — who made the catch — to first baseman Miguel Cabrera to third baseman Jeimer Candelario to cut down Kelvin Gutierrez advancing to third base, to end the inning.

Still, Benintendi scored on the play, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 2-1.

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On Sunday, the Tigers squandered many opportunities for runs.

The Tigers plated two runs in the first inning against Royals starter Kris Bubic but left the bases loaded in two straight at-bats: Wilson Ramos popped out foul on the first pitch he saw and JaCoby Jones struck out on three pitches.

In the fifth, Cabrera grounded into a double play after singles from Jonathan Schoop and Candelario. Then, Eric Haase grounded out, stranding Schoop at third. In the next inning, outs by Jake Rogers and Grossman stranded two runners.

The final scoring chance occurred in the seventh inning, when Schoop opened with a double to right field. A wild pitch from reliever Scott Barlow advanced him to third base, but he was thrown out trying to score on Cabrera’s ground ball to shortstop.

“We hate losing,” Hinch said. “We had a chance to win. We didn’t win. It’s not fun. But we’re going to be OK. We’re going to show up tomorrow ready to play, but these are tough losses when you get walked off.”

HIS LAST START: Why AJ Hinch is totally fine with Casey Mize’s bit of frustration

Despite the offensive shortcomings, Mize kept the Tigers in the game. He threw nine pitches in the first inning, 10 in the second, 13 in the third, 21 in the fourth, four in the fifth, 17 in the sixth and 12 through one out in the seventh.

He commanded his offspeed and breaking pitches early on, logging his first four strikeouts with four different pitches: Splitter, slider, curveball and fastball. Of his 14 swings and misses, he got six with his slider, five with his fastball and three with his splitter.

“I want to be able to throw any pitch in any count to anybody,” Mize said. “That helps me succeed and keeps the hitters guessing. Whenever I’ve able to do that for the most part, it definitely puts me in a better position. That’s something I’m striving to do.”

Mize’s success is becoming a trend this month.

Across his past four starts, he has a 1.73 ERA, 10 walks and 20 strikeouts in 26 innings. The Tigers won the first three and came one inning away from snagging their fourth victory with Mize on the mound in May.

Through nine starts this season, Mize has a 3.42 ERA, 20 walks and 40 strikeouts in 52⅔ innings. He has made 16 starts in his MLB career.

“Casey was good,” Hinch said. “He didn’t have his best stuff, and he got a little bit shaky at different times in his outing but found a way to execute pitches. He did a good job of adding and subtracting off his stuff.

“He’s a really good pitcher. We’re watching him mature in this first half of the season so far, and he did a nice job getting us to the seventh.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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