Casey Mize dealt a strong hand Friday against the New York Yankees to match Gerrit Cole, arguably the best pitcher on the planet. His efforts allowed the Detroit Tigers to have a chance against baseball’s royalty.
In five0 starts in May, the 24-year-old Mize had a 1.74 ERA, 0.871 WHIP, 10 walks and 27 strikeouts in 31 innings. These results are due to the workings of pitching coach Chris Fetter, who continues to impress.
“I gotta give credit to Chris Fetter,” Mize said. “A lot of game planning, and then just telling me a lot of my strengths and weaknesses. We change up some pitch usage throughout different outings, and we game plan really well.
“He also had me move over to the middle side of the rubber. I was on the far first base side of the rubber, and he thought it would be a good move for me to shift my feet over to the middle part of the rubber. That was about six starts ago, and I’ve been pretty decent ever since.”
Facing the Yankees, he struck out seven without conceding a walk — despite nine three-ball counts — across five innings of one-run ball. The Tigers won, 3-2, in the 10th inning on Robbie Grossman’s walk-off home run.
DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton went 0-for-6 against Mize with six strikeouts. When they battled and worked deep into counts, testing Mize’s ability to make his best pitches, the rookie beat them.
“Casey’s well aware that we’re facing Gerrit Cole,” manager AJ Hinch said. “And we’re going to need to match zero for zero.”
Throughout May, Mize pitched like an ace for the Tigers. The team at the bottom of the American League Central won four of five games with him on the mound.
Mize fired six innings of one-run ball May 5 against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. He battled through six innings May 12 against the Royals, which continued his strong on-field relationship with Hinch.
“Really appreciative of a manager that’s going to believe in me and let me ride it out,” Mize said after beating the Royals. “I’m really appreciative and proud to play for AJ Hinch.”
He pitched into the eighth inning for the first time in his career May 17 against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park. He gave up one run on three hits and three walks, striking out seven in 7⅔ innings.
The Tigers’ lone loss in a Mize start was May 23 against the Royals. He was lined up for the win as the Tigers took a 2-1 lead into the ninth, but Carlos Santana hit a walk-off home run off Michael Fulmer. Mize allowed one run on three hits and one walk, with six strikeouts.
Hinch praised Fetter for his work with Mize and other members of the pitching staff. The starting rotation ranks 13th in MLB with a 3.90 ERA this season. Since May 16, the bullpen is third-best in baseball, with a 1.78 ERA.
“Fett is blending in to the responsibilities perfectly,” Hinch said. “He’s very calm. He’s very in tune. I have coffee with him almost every morning when we go over things. The things that he can recite and quickly counter my thoughts or support my thoughts on what our pitching is doing, I’m very impressed by his acumen.
“He’s got a great feel for players. He’s got a great feel for information. The most important thing that he does is he blends it. It’s not a one size fits all, and that’s why we hired him. Seeing him work, I’m very proud he is here.”
Across 10 starts this season, Mize has a 3.28 ERA with 20 walks and 47 strikeouts in 57⅔ innings. His ERA is the second-best among Detroit’s starting pitchers, behind Spencer Turnbull’s 3.12 mark in seven starts, which includes a no-hitter in Seattle.
“There’s a competitive piece between the starting rotation,” Mize said about Turnbull’s gem. “That’s going to be pretty tough to one up but chasing that is going to be pretty fun. Ultimately just happy for him more than anything.”
Praise Mize for his success, of course.
But don’t forget about Fetter, the former Michigan pitching coach in his first year with the Tigers.
Because like Mize in May, he was just that good.
“You’ve got to give credit where it’s due for him,” Mize said. “He’s definitely telling me to make some adjustments that have been paying off. Definitely leaning on Chris, a lot.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.