Casey Mize closely inspected videos from April 12, 2021.
In his second start of the season for the Detroit Tigers, the rookie right-hander posted seven scoreless innings in a 6-2 win over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. It marked the best game of his young career in his ninth MLB start.
On Saturday, Mize faced the Astros for the second time.
“I pitched pretty well there, and we were fortunate to win the game,” Mize said. “I rewatched that a bunch of times, saw how I pitched those guys and took some things from that outing and tried to apply it to this one, especially the splitter. That was definitely a big part of the game plan. I looked over it a bunch and applied what I could.”
Mize, 24, pitched the Tigers to a 3-1 win in Game one of Saturday’s doubleheader. He fired six innings of one-run ball, allowing six hits and two walks. He struck out five batters and threw 66 of his 101 pitches for strikes.
Mize has a 2-0 record against one of the most potent lineups in baseball.
“He’s a dog,” shortstop Zack Short said. “He really is a dog. He doesn’t care who he’s facing. He believes in his stuff. He believes in his process.”
The secret to snapping Houston’s 11-game winning streak?
Mize’s splitter, the pitch that helped him become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft.
“Coming in, that was part of the game plan,” Mize said. “We threw a lot of splitters at their place earlier in the year. I knew I needed it today to have a quality start, so I was really hoping it was there for me. In the bullpen, I was feeling pretty good. I threw more as the game went on, so it was feeling pretty good for me all day, but it was definitely a big pitch.”
Mize has a 5-4 record, 3.46 ERA, 26 walks and 71 strikeouts over 88⅓ innings in his 15 starts this season. Since April 29, he boasts a 2.93 ERA, 19 walks and 57 strikeouts across 67⅔ innings in 11 outings.
In his first clash with the Astros, Mize pumped in 28 four-seam fastballs (31%), 26 splitters (29%), 21 sliders (24%), eight curveballs (9%) and six two-seam fastballs (7%). For his second go-around, he threw 28 sliders (28%), 26 four-seam fastballs (26%), 23 two-seam fastballs (23%), 21 splitters (21%) and three curveballs (3%).
For the entire season, Mize has used 211 splitters for 15.2% of his pitch mix.
The way Mize approached the Astros — throwing more splitters than normal — worked.
“I think he mixed his pitch mix on purpose, especially when he found that he could throw it where he wanted to,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “He doesn’t have to be a one-style pitcher. He’s fastball-slider, fastball-split, split-slider. He’ll throw a slower breaking ball. Casey’s a really good pitcher. He worked that in because it was effective, and specifically the opponent.”
In Saturday’s matchup, Mize didn’t throw his splitter until his 17th pitch. He also used it twice against Carlos Correa, helping set up the final out to escape a runners-on-the-corners jam. Despite back-to-back singles, Mize retired the next three batters to keep the Astros from scoring in the first frame.
Mize’s splitter then got Jose Altuve to ground out to start the third inning.
He went back to his splitter three pitches later, forcing Michael Brantley to ground out. Altuve and Brantley each grounded out again in the fifth inning, thanks to the splitter. The pitch generated four swings and misses, four called strikes, two foul balls and five balls in play.
“It’s a feel pitch for him, even though it’s a power pitch for him, in terms of arm speed, hand speed,” Hinch said. “Everything’s got to be in sync, good delivery, all that. “With Casey, it’s never a surprise to me when he finds a way to beat the opponent. Today, he threw the ball very well. Getting out of that early traffic catapulted him forward into a much better frame of mind.”
Mize noticed the velocity of his splitter was slower Saturday, coming in at an 83.8 mph average. It was a 2.8 mph less than his yearly average.
“Sometimes when I try to do too much with it, I grip it too hard, maybe throw it too hard, which leads to spiking it, sailing it a little bit,” Mize said. “Today, I just had a pretty good feel for it, and it was slower than normal.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.