What Detroit Tigers rookie Casey Mize thinks about having a lighter workload soon

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers rookie Casey Mize knows what happens next is unavoidable.

Despite the 24-year-old right-hander’s rapid development in the big leagues, the Tigers are preparing to limit his workload. While manager AJ Hinch has not made his plan official, the organization knows it needs to protect its young arms from injuries, considering the jump from 60 games in 2020 to 162 games in 2021. Mize’s career high in innings was set in 2018, with 114⅔ in his final year at Auburn; he’s at 82⅓ innings this year with yearly 56% of the season remaining.

Here’s one possibility: The Tigers exercise load management with Mize (and possibly Tarik Skubal) in early July — sometime around July 12-15’s All-Star break — and use 23-year-old rookie Matt Manning as a tandem starter. Having Mize and Skubal make starts of two or three innings while staying on their routine might be the best answer, rather than sending them to the bullpen.

Regardless of the specifics, Mize’s workload will change soon.

“I know that’s coming, which is going to be frustrating,” Mize said Sunday, after pitching five innings of three run-ball in a 5-3 extra innings win over the Los Angeles Angels. “But I trust the people at the top making those decisions. I know it’s kind of necessary for this year. You’re seeing all the injuries that are going on, and it’s definitely alarming. I’m going to trust the people who make those decisions and do what they ask of me.”

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In 14 starts this season, Mize has a 3.61 ERA, 1.117 WHIP, 24 walks and 66 strikeouts over 82⅓ innings, with 13 home runs allowed and 33 earned runs. Last season, he registered seven starts with a 6.99 ERA over 28⅓ innings.

In nine starts since the beginning of May, Mize owns a 2.91 ERA, 14 walks and 46 strikeouts across 55⅔ innings.

“I want to pitch, and I want to eat innings,” Mize said. “That’s something I take pride in, getting as many outs as possible and limiting runs. That’s what my goals are every day.”

Skubal, a 24-year-old left-hander, has pitched in 14 games (12 starts) and 66 innings in 2021, boasting a 4.36 ERA, 31 walks and 81 strikeouts. He could face load management, as well, around the All-Star break. On Thursday, Manning — the Tigers’ No. 3 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline — made his MLB debut against the Angels and completed five innings of two-run ball.

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Keeping Mize and Skubal on strict limits won’t be easy, as the Tigers’ potential starting depth has withered away in the past few weeks. Left-hander Matthew Boyd and righty Spencer Turnbull, two established starters, aren’t expected to return from the 10-day injured list until after the All-Star break.

Yet Hinch wants Mize, Skubal and Manning to get at least five or six days rest between starts until then, rather than the normal four.

“I’m not going to bring back Casey, Tarik and Matt on regular rest unless I have to,” Hinch said. “The (open) spot in the rotation is going to continue to roll forward. Even though we have an off-day on Monday we’re going to stay conservative with our young pitching and make sure they get as much rest as we can give them from start to start.”

Crackdown begins

With his team off Monday, Hinch planned to watch games throughout Monday afternoon and evening to get an idea for how umpires will approach MLB’s enhanced enforcement of a ban on foreign substances applied to baseballs.

Beginning with Monday’s games, pitchers will be ejected and suspended if they’re caught. The suspension is for 10 days (with pay), and the team cannot replace the suspended player on the roster.

On Sunday, Hinch spoke at length on the issue: “I think the interpretation of what is sticky and what is not sticky, where rosin can and can’t go, I don’t think anybody really knows. I think it’s going to have to be trial and error, and the problem with error comes a lot of accusations of cheating. We’re trying to find clarification on exactly what the process is going to be like. Everybody wants a level playing field. I envision like a tough inning, and I’m bringing a guy out of the game. All of a sudden, you got umpires undressing him. There’s a lot of risk that comes with the process. We just got to make sure the process is articulated to the players, well defined and given a chance to success. It could be a rocky start.

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“I went to talk to the umpire because of the curiosity of when a player applies rosin to his hand, which is legal, there’s a misunderstanding on whether he can apply it to both arms or one arm. He sweats on both sides of his body. Trying to understand where you can and can’t apply it. Once that goes to his hat, and his hat becomes discolored, which is going to happen 100 out of 100 times, he’s expected to have a new hat for the next inning. That’s what I was told last night.

Little nuances like that has nothing to do with competitive advantage, nothing to do with cheating, but just process like, you can have a starting pitcher go through six hats in six innings. That seems to be a little bit of a stretch of what is necessary. We’re all kind of panicked, not because we’re against the outlawing of anything sticky, but we are unsure of what the operation is going to be like.”

Derek Hill makes progress

Center fielder Derek Hill, who went to the 10-day injured list June 10 with a right shoulder sprain is rehabbing with Low-A Lakeland.

Hill is 3-for-10 (.300) with one double and three strikeouts in two games as part of his rehabilitation assignment. The 25-year-old appeared as the designated hitter for both contests, but the Tigers are optimistic he will return to the outfield within a few days.

“He just did offense only, so swinging is not a problem,” Hinch said. “Throwing out to a certain distance is not a problem, but we’ve got to get him stretch to where he can make any throw without pinch, ache or pain. We think that’s going to happen sometime midweek this week.”

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Hinch said Hill will eventually head to Triple-A Toledo.

“There is a process of getting from one affiliate to another affiliate,” Hinch said. “That’s still a process we’re working through, and we’ll deem him major-league ready when we feel like he can do all things.”

Hill has played seven games with the Tigers this season, going 3-for-12 (.25) with one RBI, two walks, three strikeouts and three stolen bases. He injured his shoulder making a leaping catch against the center-field wall in Comerica Park on June 9. In 21 games for the Mud Hens, he went 27-for-76 (.355) with two home runs, 11 RBIs, eight walks and 25 strikeouts.

Erasmo Ramirez nears fureturn

Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez has been on the 10-day injured list since May 8 with a right pectoralis strain, sustained May 7 while warming up for his season debut in the majors.

Ramirez, 31, is now pitching for Triple-A Toledo again. He entered Friday’s 7-5 loss to the Columbus Clippers in the fifth inning and tossed 1⅓ scoreless innings. He retired all four batters he faced, throwing six of nine pitches for strikes. The short, successful stint wasn’t exactly planned.

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“When we said one-plus (innings), we mean four outs,” Hinch said. “We couldn’t audible in the middle and extended him even further. We would have, had we known he was going to be so efficient. But you kind of expect 20-25 pitches on a one-plus. He got his four outs in nine pitches.

“He’ll have a multiple-inning outing here in a couple days, and then we’ll evaluate where he’s at.”

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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