Detroit Tigers rookie Casey Mize was only supposed to pitch three innings.
His efficiency persuaded manager AJ Hinch to send him back out for the fourth inning. Wednesday’s outing against the Texas Rangers marked Mize’s final outing before the All-Star break. After the break, his innings will be continue to be limited for a couple of starts.
“I’m trying to get as many innings as I can,” Mize said. “Definitely happy with the pitch count.”
Mize completed the fourth, but not before Rangers slugger Joey Gallo smacked his second homer to tie the game at two all. The Tigers (40-47) didn’t go down without a fight, scoring three runs in the seventh for a 5-3 win and series victory at Globe Life Field.
“We come into every game expecting to win and knowing that we have a chance to, which is just an awesome feeling to be able to come to the field and know that,” Mize said. “I love these guys and enjoy being in the clubhouse with them and competing on the field and in the trenches. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Tigers are 31-23 since May 8 and 11-5 since June 20.
In the seventh, the Tigers relied on two singles and a walk to load the bases against Texas All-Star Kyle Gibson. In came left-hander reliever Joely Rodriguez, inheriting a bases-loaded, one-out jam, to face lefty Akil Baddoo.
Instead, Miguel Cabrera, pinch-hitting for Baddoo, came up to the plate.
A few pitches later, Cabrera gave the Tigers a 3-2 lead with an unlikely infield single. He sent the ball back up the middle, and it deflected off Rodriguez’s glove, forcing Eli White to make a running throw across his body to first, which Cabrera barely beat. Zack Short scored on the play.
“I’ve never seen Miggy run that fast,” Hinch said. “I think we can maybe all say that. He smelled that hit. That kind of ignited things. We didn’t hit the ball necessarily hard, but the Miggy at-bat was really a catalyst for us to settle in. … A lot to like in that inning.”
Jonathan Schoop followed with a bloop single down the right-field line for a 4-2 lead, and Robbie Grossman drew a seven-pitch, bases-loaded walk for a three-run edge.
Detroit’s All-Star representative, left-hander Gregory Soto, entered with the bases loaded and no outs in the eighth inning. One run scored — Gallo’s one-out walk to cut the Tigers’ lead to 5-3 — but Soto struck out John Hicks and Jonah Heim to escape further damage.
Soto then allowed a leadoff double in the ninth but retired the final three batters for his seventh save.
“Huge performance for us,” Hinch said.
Short but strong start
Besides Gallo’s home runs, Mize pitched well through his four innings. He allowed two runs on four hits, did not issue a walk and struck out two batters. He threw 35 of 50 pitches for strikes.
The first home run from Gallo came in the second inning. He drove Mize’s two-seam fastball 440 feet to right-center field, tying the game at one.
“We got behind 2-0, and the plan wasn’t to throw him sinkers away,” Mize said. “But 2-0, that was the only time where we were going to be able to throw a sinker, maybe to get some weak contact at the bottom of the zone. I just caught way too much plate. It was a bomb.”
Hicks and Heim then tossed in back-to-back singles, but Mize got David Dahl to ground into a double play.
The next batter, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, struck out swinging.
Mize cruised through the first inning with nine pitches and carved up the Rangers with 10 pitches in the third frame. In the fourth, Adolis Garcia, another All-Star and Rookie of the Year contender, struck out on four pitches before Gallo pounded his second home run.
Like the first homer, Gallo belted Mize’s two-seam fastball; this time it flew 462 feet to right-center field. Gallo — Texas’ third All-Star, who will compete in the Home Run Derby — combined for 902 feet of home runs in two at-bats against Mize. He has 10 homers in his past 10 games and 23 total this season.
“We tried to go up and in late (in the at-bat) with a fastball,” Mize said. “He has a hole there, if you can execute the pitch. Up and in, he can’t handle it as well as some of the other stuff he handles really well. Once again, way too much plate. Another homer. Definitely sucks, just lack of execution.”
Mize retired the next two batters with ease to complete his outing. For his 50 pitches, the 24-year-old threw 30% sliders, 26% two-seamers, 24% splitters, 16% four-seam fastballs and 4% curveballs. He got five swings and misses, including three with his slider.
“Casey was so efficient early, so we went from three innings to four innings,” Hinch said, “just because we don’t want the volume to go too far back down, and then all of a sudden he’s not conditioned when he comes out of this thing.”
Gibson limits Tigers until 7th
For the first time since May 18, Jeimer Candelario hit a home run.
With two outs in the fourth inning, he homered against Gibson to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead. It was Candelario’s fifth homer this season.
The Tigers scored their first run in the first inning, thanks to Grossman’s RBI single.
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Gibson didn’t make many other mistakes. He retired the Tigers in order in the second, third and sixth innings, along with working out of a jam in the fifth inning. But Gibson was chased in the seventh inning after loading the bases with one out; he was charged with all three runs in the inning and took a loss for the first time this season.
Gibson allowed five runs on eight hits and two walks, striking out seven, across 6⅓ innings. He threw 58 of 98 pitches for strikes.
Bullpen takes over
Right-handed reliever Kyle Funkhouser bridged the gap from Mize to the back end of the bullpen with scoreless fifth and sixth innings. He silenced the Rangers on his own in the fifth, retiring all three batters he faced with 10 pitches.
The sixth inning belonged to Short at shortstop.
In his 15th MLB game, Short took singles away from Nate Lowe and Gallo to help Funkhouser get out of the inning. Dashing into center field with one out, he made an over-the-head catch to rob Lowe of a bloop single.
After Funkhouser walked Garcia, Gallo stepped into the batter’s box seeking his third home run. He tagged Funkhouser’s 97 mph fastball, but Short — positioned behind second base in the shift — made a diving catch to the first-base side of the base to end the inning.
“I think he’s settling in to the big leagues and feels good about things,” Hinch said. “He’s a good athlete, has great actions, very team-oriented guy. He’s doing things to help us win. When you give guys an opportunity, and they continue to step up in different ways … that’s all you can ask for.”
Controlling a three-run lead, right-hander Jose Cisnero fired a scoreless seventh inning. Righty Erasmo Ramirez entered for the eighth. He allowed back-to-back singles, and Hinch had to stick with him against Lowe — who singled to load the bases — because of the three-batter-minimum rule.
But Soto limited the damage and pitched two innings for the save. He threw 32 pitches.
“I was trying to sneak in Erasmo in the eighth inning, knowing I had Soto to back him up,” Hinch said. “Now I didn’t anticipate the bases-loaded Soto entry, where he’d get two full innings. But Joe (Jimenez) was down. I didn’t want to use Buck (Farmer). I had (Daniel) Norris down.
“We still had pitching available. Tyler (Alexander) can throw forever. When the game is close, it’s very difficult to bridge the amount of innings that we needed, but our guys came in and did it.”
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.