Perfection was not the goal for Casey Mize on Sunday in Cincinnati.
The Detroit Tigers’ rookie righty went into the game knowing he had nine outs to get, per the plan.
And get them he did, retiring the nine Reds he faced in order — no hits, no walks, no runs allowed over three innings (with two strikeouts).
OK, that bit was a bonus, especially considering his efficiency; only 34 pitches in his perfect trip through the Cincy lineup. An extra inning of work earned? Nope. Tigers manager AJ Hinch replaced Mize with Jose Urena to open the bottom of the fourth.
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Luckily for Mize and Hinch, the plan worked — not to perfection, perhaps, but certainly well enough as the Tigers’ four relievers (Urena, Michael Fulmer, Jose Cisnero and Gregory Soto) held the Reds to six hits, two walks and one run over the final six frames. But we’re not here to talk about the Tigers’ relief corps.
Instead, let’s dive into the praise Hinch heaped upon Mize after the game, as the Freep’s Evan Petzold reported Sunday: “Casey has to be one of the best, most efficient short-start guys in history.”
How much of that is talking-head hyperbole and how much is backed by the numbers?
Sunday was Mize’s sixth start of four innings or less this season (in 26 overall starts): that includes his first outing in April, in which he threw 82 pitches over four innings; a start in August against the Angels (don’t look it up) in which he labored for 88 pitches over four innings; three July “load management” starts in which he was limited to about 50 pitches (including a one-hit gem in Texas) and Sunday’s outing. And sure enough, he has allowed two or fewer earned runs in all six limited outings, for an ERA of 2.86 in those games. But how does that compare to his peers this season, especially considering the growing prevalence of “openers” and “piggyback” rotations?
Pretty well, it turns out: Mize is one of 50 pitchers this season with at least six starts of four innings or less. Three are Tigers, with Tyler Alexander and Urena also short-shifting fairly often. (San Diego Padres rookie Ryan Weathers, drafted six picks after Mize in 2018, leads the majors with 12 short-start outings.) And as you might expect, that group’s ERAs in those games are brutal, with 42 of the 50 putting up ERAs of 6.07 or higher. This makes sense, as most pitchers who don’t make it into the fifth inning are pulled for ineffectiveness, rather than a larger workload plan.
Still, Mize tops the list with his sub-3 ERA, more than half a run lower than No. 2 this year, ex-Tiger David Price at 3.38 in seven short-starts with the Dodgers. (Alexander ranks fifth, with a 4.84 ERA.)
But what about Mize’s historical peers? Dating back to 1913 — when the earned run became an official stat in both leagues (the NL actually adopted it in 1912) — there have been 2,125 pitcher-seasons with at least six starts of four innings or less. (Tampa Bay’s Ryne Stanek has the most in one season, with 27, covering 43 total innings, in 2019.) Again, the great majority of those pitcher-seasons have created horrific ERAs, topping out at Virgil Cheeves’ 1922 ERA of 51.75 over six starts and 19 innings for the Chicago Cubs. (The Tigers’ Woodie Fryman is next-to-last at 35.53 in six starts, and 6⅓ innings, in 1974.) Oh, and Mize? Of those 2,125, his 2.86 ERA ranks seventh, just ahead of the 2.86 ERA posted by the Tigers’ Daniel Norris in his 10 starts of four innings or less in 2019.
All of which is, yes, a lot of number-crunching to confirm that, even if he’s not perfect every time, three innings of Mize can be more than enough.
Of course, the Tigers didn’t spend a No. 1 overall pick on Mize to pitch him three or four innings at a time, but this is the plan for Mize over his final four starts, as Hinch noted.
The Tigers’ skipper had an upbeat take on the final month (hopefully) of short-starts from Mize: “Maybe he’ll take something from that into the outings when we stretch him back out.” Read more here on Mize’s thoughts on the plan.
If there’s one other Tiger who knows about short outings, it’s Michael Fulmer, who spent all of 2020 limited to three innings or fewer over his 10 starts. This season, he’s still making short appearances, but from out of the bullpen, with 38 relief appearances and eight saves. The increased workload created more stress on his shoulder, leading to an injured list stint in June. But Fulmer is back in the big leagues now. Click here for Our Man Petzold’s report on the new tool — the “Pocket Path” — keeping him healthy.
It’s a Funk show, brother
Speaking of starters finding new life in the bullpen, Kyle Funkhouser was electric in relief for most of August, allowing two earned runs over 14⅓ innings. He got into trouble on Friday night in Cincinnati; Our Man Petzold has the story here of how the righthander channeled his adrenaline to preserve a narrow lead (at the time) for the Tigers.
Rob-bing the bank
Just a couple innings after Funkhouser worked out of his jam in Cincy, Robbie Grossman delivered his 21st home run of the year to break the game wide open. Grossman’s three-run shot to right in the seventh inning resulted in the Tigers’ first 20-homer season since 2018. Click here to find out from Our Man Petzold why Hinch says, “I had him as an infant, and now I have him as a full-grown adult.”
20/20 vision in 2021?
Grossman has also served up some speed with his slugging; his steal Saturday was his 16th of the year. Four more steals and he’ll become the seventh Tiger ever with 20 homers and 20 steals in the same season. Click here to meet the rest of the exclusive club, ruled by Kirk Gibson (of course).
Nick of all trades
The Tigers’ weekend stop in Cincinnati brought a reunion with the owner of that previous 20-homer season from 2018: Nick Castellanos. The former Tigers’ first-round pick is crushing the ball again with the Reds, with 26 homers and 33 doubles in 115 games. He could be a free agent after the season, too. Our Man Petzold talked here with the 2021 NL All-Star about his time in the Motor City and how the 2019 trade out of town ‘put a little more gas on the fire.”
A view to Akil
Parting ways with Castellanos opened an outfield spot — eventually, OK, and the less said about the end of 2019 the better — for rookie Akil Baddoo this season, and the 23-year-old is back on the attack in September. Our Man Petzold explains the secret to Baddoo’s late-summer surge — to the tune of a .286/.400/.667 slash line last week — here.
3 to watch
They’re playing for roster spots in 2022, in the rotation and the bullpen…
MIGUEL DEL POZO: Liner off his jaw a reminder of his fresh perspective in 2021.
ALEX LANGE: “His stuff plays. We’ve always said it.”
MATT MANNING: “The only way to learn from it is to go through it.”
Yes, the end of the season is beginning to loom, with today’s game in Pittsburgh marking No. 139 for the season, leaving just 23 (and something something other teams in the playoffs) contests before we finally get down to business in the offseason. GM Al Avila had another update this week on the Tigers’ plans to improve and why, as Our Man Petzold reports here, they’re not only about free agency in pushing for a championship. (But seriously, they’re signing a freakin’ shortstop, right?)
Championship? Did somebody say “Championship?” Actually, yes, that would be the Taylor North Little League crew, who got to hang out with the big-league cats at Comerica Park on Tuesday. The Freep’s Jeff Seidel was there for the party, which included fist bumps, selfies and the gift of a few jerseys. Relive the fun here.
Meanwhile, Taylor’s victory in the Little League World Series sent the Freep’s Carlos Monarrez down the memory hole for the lessons he learned from watching the action in Williamsport (and what he learned covering youth sports in California). Click here to find out the big thing MLB could learn from the kids.
Happy birthday, new guy!
The newest member of the Tigers’ bullpen, Drew Carlton, turns 26 on Wednesday. Carlton was called up from Toledo on Saturday to plug a hole in a relief corps stretched thin by the Tigers’ extended action in National League parks and was thrown into action on that night. He kept his arm fresh, though, as he needed just one out to end the seventh inning in Cincinnati. Click here for Our Man Petzold’s story of how Carlton rose from a 32nd-round pick in 2017 to the majors.
Other Tigers birthdays this week: Edwin Jackson (38 on Thursday), Dustin Peterson (27 on Friday), Jose Urena (30 on Sunday).
Mark your calendar!
It’s a “Rags to Riches”-type week for the Tigers — well, a “Rags to Also Rags But Also A Lot of Wins”-type week — as the Tigers head to Pittsburgh for a three-game set against the Pirates (sitting third in the draft order at 48-89) from today-Wednesday and then return to Comerica Park for a three-game set against the Rays (sitting atop the AL standings). The Rays are 6½ games up in the race for homefield advantage in the AL playoffs, and a game back of homefield throughout the playoffs. Still, Tigers manager AJ Hinch says the Tigers aren’t focused on playing a spoiler role against the Rays or in the three series against playoff teams after this weekend. Click here to find out why he told Our Man Petzold, “This isn’t a tryout camp.”
The Pirates have their own starter with a plethora of short-starts this season: Bryse Wilson, who takes the mound today with five starts of four innings or less this season. Then again, he has an 8.00 ERA in those (with four of them for Atlanta).