What happened Friday night was inevitable.
Detroit Tigers rookie Casey Mize always understood his innings would eventually be limited. His manager, AJ Hinch, kept the former No. 1 overall pick updated throughout the season and, most recently, put the organization’s season-long plan into motion.
“I knew it was coming,” Mize said Friday. “It’s not something that was dropped on me last minute. This has been part of the plan, and we’re just going to execute that. I’m hoping to make every start and finish the season without having a shutdown in September.”
After completing the third inning in Friday’s 8-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox, Mize did not return to the mound at Comerica Park. For the next couple starts, the 24-year-old will be restricted to two or three innings per start. Later in July, sometime after the All-Star break, the Tigers plan to extend Mize — allowing him to pitch deeper into games again.
Against the White Sox, Mize allowed two runs on four hits and one walk, with four strikeouts, over three innings. He threw 34 of 56 pitches for strikes.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do in September, but we’re going to be very proactive on how we’re going to handle our young pitching,” Hinch said. “We addressed this with Casey a while ago. None of us really wanted this day to come because he’s been on such a role, but we have to be smart with what we’re doing with his workload. Right around the All-Star break seemed like the perfect time.”
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Mize is taking a lighter workload is because of the jump from the 60-game schedule in 2020, a product of the COVID-19 pandemic, to the full 162-game season in 2021. Last year, he pitched 28⅓ innings after being called up in August for his MLB debut.
This season, Mize has pitched 91⅓ innings over 16 starts. He boasts a 3.55 ERA, 27 walks and 75 strikeouts.
“It’s frustrating from a competitive standpoint,” Mize said. “I really take pride in getting as many outs as possible, going deep into the game and allowing as few runs as possible. Those are the two most important things a pitcher can do. It’s frustrating when you can’t get as many outs as possible, but this is just a unique situation. I’m on board with what we’re doing.”
Of course, the Tigers could have sent Mize to the bullpen. Or they could have skipped his starts at various points throughout the season.
“Our belief is that keeping him in his normal routine is better for his long-term health and short-term health,” Hinch said. “We also want his innings. … There’s no perfect way. I don’t think any of us really know exactly what the perfect scenario is. Whether it’s moving a guy to the bullpen, skipping a start or keeping Casey on his regular routine, we’re going to attack it individually. It’s not a one-size-fits-all program.”
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Through the early parts of Mize’s career, he has been praised for his unwavering routine and preparation. The consistency in his daily approach is a key reason for his success. That’s why sending him to the bullpen and skipping starts doesn’t make sense for his development.
If the Tigers remove him from his weekly and daily routines, they risk injury and poor performance.
“I still want to ask the same of my body from a preparation and recovery standpoint,” Mize said. “Because we’re going to pick this thing back up at some point and go back to normal starts. I don’t want to tone that down too much and then ramp back up. I want to stay pretty level.”
What about Skubal?
For advice, Mize has leaned on fellow rookie Tarik Skubal.
In April, the Tigers sent Skubal to the bullpen for two outings — April 21 against the Pittsburgh Pirates and April 25 against the Kansas City Royals — before his return to the rotation. The decision was performance-based, but it also kept his innings in check.
“He took off after that,” Hinch said. “Tarik did a great job of bouncing back from that stretch.”
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Since returning from the bullpen, Skubal has a 3.68 ERA over 58⅔ innings in 11 starts. Across his past eight starts, from May 19-June 27, the 24-year-old left-hander owns a 2.82 ERA, with 19 walks and 63 strikeouts.
This season, Skubal has pitched 77⅔ innings in 16 games (14 starts).
He is expected to be restricted for a stint of games after the All-Star break, but the timetable for his second round of a lighter workload is undetermined. The Tigers didn’t want to shorten Mize’s and Skubal’s starts at the same time.
“Leading into this, the fact that I knew I was only going three innings, it’s just a different situation,” Mize said. “But talking through it with (Skubal) provided me with a little bit of insight of what it was going to be like.”
About Friday night
With Mize leaving early, Hinch turned to lefty Tyler Alexander for the fourth inning.
Alexander pitched the Tigers through the fourth and one out into fifth inning. He didn’t allow a hit, walk or run, but one batter reached because of Jonathan Schoop’s error at first base.
Righty Erasmo Ramirez — reinstated from the injured list on Friday — made his season debut, shoving 2⅔ innings. He allowed one run on two hits. He didn’t issue a walk and threw 19 of 23 pitches for strikes.
Daniel Norris pitched a scoreless eighth inning. Bryan Garcia allowed a solo home run to Vaughn and an RBI single to Mendick in the ninth. He didn’t record an out against his first four batters, so Hinch went to Buck Farmer.
Farmer then allowed a three-run blast to Gavin Sheets for an 8-1 White Sox lead. Nomar Mazara had a two-out pinch-hit single in the bottom of the ninth to give the Tigers their second run. Schoop’s sac fly off Lance Lynn (six innings, one run, four hits, five walks, nine strikeouts) was the only other Tigers run.
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.