‘A step forward’: Tigers’ Mize shuts down Cards with arm, lights up scoreboard with RBI

Detroit News

St. Louis, Mo. — AJ Hinch was asked before the game if he thought his starting pitcher Casey Mize would be ready to hit, since, you know, he never has. Not even at Auburn.

“Well,” Hinch said with a wry grin, “he will go up to bat. I don’t know how much we’ll let him hit.”

Turns out, he did some damage without swinging the bat.

Mize’s first-ever plate appearance came with the bases loaded in the second inning and he drew a four-pitch walk from Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty. Mize flipped the bat toward the dugout and when he got to first base, he drew an imaginary bow and shot the arrow, like he’s watched his hitters to all year.

“That’s pretty unlike me, to be honest, to do something like that,” Mize said afterward. “Just in the moment, you know? It is what it is. The bat went a little farther than I intended, but I think the dugout enjoyed it.”

It was a light moment for the Tigers but a dark one for the Cardinals — who not only lost the game 4-3, but might have lost one of their dynamic starting pitchers. The four-pitch walk to Mize was the first real sign that Flaherty, who was making just his third start after a long stint on the injured list, wasn’t right.

“His velo was down,” said Robbie Grossman, who led off the third inning with his 19th home run of the season. “We had to take advantage of it when we can. We were lucky we got to him.”

Miguel Cabrera followed Grossman with his 14th homer. Flaherty threw an 89-mph four-seamer to Grossman, 5 mph under his average velocity. Then he hung a slider to Cabrera, who pulled it 422 feet into the third deck in left.

Flaherty walked off with the Cardinals trainer. The club announced he had right shoulder tightness.

“You just hope everything is OK with him,” Hinch said. “I’m glad the way we got after him and put pressure on him early. But his health is what’s important. The game is better when he’s pitching every five days.”

It was career home run No. 501 for Cabrera, who was given a video tribute by the Cardinals before his first at-bat. He also collected a single in the game, which brings his hit total to 2,957, passing Wee Willie Keeler for 35th on the all-time list.

“We’re probably not going to count the homers from this point forward,” Hinch said with a grin. “But he had really good at-bats today. Jeimer Candelario had good at-bats. Robbie had the homer. Derek Hill had (an RBI single).

“And I guess I have to put Casey in there, too, with a quality at-bat.”

BOX SCORE: Tigers 4, Cardinals 3

Mize, who has had a rough August up to this point, blanked the Cardinals over five innings. He did so, perhaps not as dominantly as he has other starts (only two strikeouts, two swings and misses), but very efficiently, clinically.

He allowed three hits and an average exit velocity on 15 balls in play of 85.5 mph — mostly soft contact.

“I don’t dive too much into mechanics during the season,” Mize said. “I think this time of year we need to work more on being over the plate. But sometimes to make yourself more over the plate, you have to re-evaluate your mechanics.

“I wasn’t moving quick enough on the mound. I seemed real slow and lethargic. We worked on moving quicker over the rubber and being more explosive.”

His fastballs were more lively and he threw 15 first-pitch strikes out of 19 batters.

“It was a step forward, for sure,” he said.

And, in his second at-bat, he did in fact take a hack. He worked the count full and hit a ground ball to second base.

“He got on base, which is fun for everybody, but it’s also horrible when you are trying to conserve energy on a hot night like tonight,” Hinch said. “(Pitchers) shouldn’t be in the batter’s box. They aren’t comfortable. They talk like they are. They are competitive and will do their best.

“But let’s be honest, they shouldn’t be in there.”

After the game Mize got a text from his high school coach, who informed him his last at-bat was six years, six months and three days ago.

“He better enjoy it because if he doesn’t pitch in Pittsburgh (in September), it’ll be the last at-bat he’ll ever get,” Grossman said with a smile.

Mize turned a 4-0 lead over to the bullpen, first to right-hander Kyle Funkhouser who has been vitally important to the Tigers’ turnaround since April. He struck out three in his two scoreless innings.

Over his last 13 outings, 14 innings, he’s allowed two runs with 14 strikeouts.

Then things got tense in a hurry. Hinch said he was staying away from both Jose Cisnero and Gregory Soto.

So Erasmo Ramirez got the eighth and he was greeted by a lead-off triple by Harrison Bader, who scored on a ground out. And with a walk and a hit batsman, Ramirez left a two-on, two-out mess for Michael Fulmer.

Nolan Arenado poked a two-run double into the right-field corner, cutting the lead to 4-3, before Fulmer struck out Yadier Molina to end the eighth.

There was no drama in the ninth. Fulmer put the Cardinals down in order.

The Tigers have now won three out of four on this road trip against two teams still fighting for wild card spots. Since May 7, they are 52-42.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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