Detroit – It’s seemed like a random decision – starting Casey Mize in the first game of the scheduled double-header Saturday and Wily Peralta in the second. Except Tigers manager AJ Hinch doesn’t do anything randomly.
There was rhyme and reason for it.
“You’re kind of trying to hit the forecast,” he said, meaning, if they only one game was going to be played around the rain, he wanted Mize to pitch it. “And Casey is very regimented. With the first game at 1 p.m., we should be able to start on time, and if we can get some innings out of him we’re set up for the second game to do whatever we want with the bullpen.”
That’s exactly how it played out. Mize, continuing a stretch of 11 straight strong starts, limited the Astros to a run over six innings and the Tigers evened the series with a 3-1, seven-inning victory.
“Casey is a really good pitcher and it’s never a surprise to me when he finds a way to beat an opponent,” Hinch said after the game. “Today he threw the ball very well.”
Mize has allowed three runs or less in 11 straight starts, lowing his ERA to 2.75 over the last 10. It was his 10th quality start of the season, fourth most in the American League.
Another decision that was made before the game which seemed routine turned out to be anything but. Infielder Zack Short was called up from Toledo to be the 27th man for the double-header. Hinch started him at shortstop against left-handed Astros starter Framber Valdez.
Short, who doubled in the third inning, blasted a two-run, opposite-field home run to right field in the fifth that broke a 1-1 tie. It was his first big-league home run and it came off a change-up. In the third, he hit a fastball from Valdez 396 feet to the wall in center.
“I definitely blacked out (running around the bases),” Short said. “When I hit it, it knew I hit it well off the bat. But especially with homers, I rarely go opposite field. But when I hit it, it was at the right angle at least to be a gapper. I was rounding first and I saw (Astros right fielder Kyle) Tucker jump.
“I was just hoping it got over that big wall out there.”
With Niko Goodrum on the injured list and the Tigers struggling defensively at the shortstop position (minus-15 defensive runs saved entering Saturday), he may not be going directly back to Toledo.
“It could be for one day,” Hinch said of Short’s call-up before the game. “Who knows, it could be for longer.”
Not a random statement.
Mize had shut out the Astros over seven innings in Houston back on April 12, but they didn’t let him ease into this one. Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley both singled to start the game, hitting sliders in two-strike counts. But Mize didn’t flinch.
“The one to Altuve was frustrating because I had him 0-2,” Mize said. “At that point, though, I literally just tried to slow everything down and try to miss bats. Mentally, that’s what I was thinking, we need some strikeouts.”
First he struck out Yuli Gurriel looking 3-2 four-seam fastball after Mize missed with three straight sliders. Then he struck out Yordan Alvarez swinging at a 1-2 four-seamer (95 mph).
He escaped the inning making quick play off the mound to field a tapper and throwing out Carlos Correa.
“Getting out of the early traffic kind of catapulted him forward into a better frame of mind,” Hinch said.
And then somewhere in the third inning, he found his splitter. It’s been an inconsistent pitch for him most of the season, but he started dropping it to right-handed and left-handed hitters – befuddling the Astros hitters.
“Coming in, that was part of the game plan,” Mize said. “We threw a lot of splitters at their place earlier in the season, so it was in the game plan again. I knew I would need it today.”
He used it to get Altuve and Brantley to ground out in the third and fifth innings. He threw three straight to strike out Alvarez.
He threw 21 splitters in his six innings, getting five whiffs on 11 swings and four called strikes. The five balls the Astros put in play against it were outs, with average exit velocity of a meek 74.8 mph.
“He doesn’t need to be a one-style pitcher,” Hinch said. “He doesn’t have to be fastball-slider or fastball-splitter or split-slider. He got a feel for the splitter today. It’s a feel pitch, even though it’s a power pitch in terms of arm speed and hand speed.
“But everything has to be in sync, and it was for him today.”
Fittingly, he ended his outing striking out Chas McCormick looking at a splitter.
The lone run against him came in third, a two-out RBI single by Correa. Mize had him down in the count 1-2, but nibbled the edges with two straight sliders before Correa banged a four-seam fastball into left field.
The Tigers made several high-grade defensive plays behind Mize, too. Daz Cameron took extra bases away from Jason Castro in the fourth inning, taking an S-route to a 400-foot fly ball and catching it with a dive on the warning track.
Short stole a single from Robel Garcia with a diving play on the second base side of the infield.
“You’ve got to play clean defense all around the field,” Hinch said. “When we have starting pitching that’s effective and we play clean defense, we can win some games. I think the team is learning that.”
Hinch called on former Astro Jose Cisnero to close it out. Which he did, winning long battles with Jason Castro (pop out) and Altuve (strikeout looking), and striking out Brantley on four pitches.