Minneapolis — Not bad for a guy who very nearly didn’t make the squad out of spring training.
Casey Mize put a bow on a 30-start rookie season Wednesday night, going four innings in the Tigers’ 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. He retired 12 of the last 13 hitters he faced after a rough first inning and ended his year by blowing a 95-mph fastball past Jake Cave.
“Yeah, just remember how close he was to not making the team out of camp,” manager AJ Hinch said. “There was a lot of talk in spring training that he wouldn’t. The 30 starts matter. It matters in how much pride he took in fighting his way on the club and then posting every single time we asked him to take the ball.”
Mize, after making seven starts and throwing 27.1 innings last year, logged 150.1 this season with a 3.71 ERA – the fifth lowest by a Tigers rookie since 1947. He posted an American League rookie-best 12 quality starts.
“His innings total doesn’t match his start total because of the way we restricted him at the end,” Hinch said. “But when you make 30 starts, you’re going wire-to-wire in the rotation.”
Mize was down 3-0 before he recorded an out Wednesday night. After a pair of softly-struck singles, Jorge Polanco launched a first-pitch fastball (94 mph) onto the berm in center field – a three-run home run.
Mize, who threw a heavy dose of sliders to the first four hitters, started pitching more off his fastball and it turned his outing around. He allowed just one hit after the first inning and ended up with four strikeouts.
Hinch before the game, though, made it abundantly clear that as good as Mize was, especially after a slow start in April, is still a work in progress.
“Casey is a really good example of someone we need to have patience with as he develops and evolves into who he is,” he said. “A lot of really good pitchers in this league were not identified perfectly after their first full season, or their first half season or their first couple of seasons.
“They develop over time. They learn their craft. They become experts and you see them settle in and become who they are.”
The three first-inning runs proved insurmountable to the Tigers’ offense. Twins veteran starter Michael Pineda scattered eight hits over 5.2 innings, but the Tigers pushed just one run across.
Robbie Grossman, who had two hits off Pineda, scored from third on Harold Castro’s comebacker to the mound. He waited until Pineda turned to throw to second and then sprinted home without a throw. He’d alertly tagged at second and went to third on a fly out to center by Jeimer Candelario.
The Tigers had runners at second and third with one out in the fifth. But Pineda struck out Jonathan Schoop and got Grossman to line out to right to end the inning.
The Tigers stranded nine runners in a 3-2 loss Tuesday night. They left 11 on base Wednesday.
They did come within inches of tying the game in the top of the eighth, though. With two outs, reliever Tyler Duffey hit Harold Castro in the foot. Eric Haase followed with a long, high drive to center.
Byron Buxton tracked it to the wall, leaped and caught the ball just above the top of the wall.
Buxton’s wheels created a tack-on run for the Twins in the bottom of the eighth. Reliever Joe Jimenez plunked him with the first pitch of the inning. Buxton stole second, went to third when Haase’s throw went into center field and scored on a single by Max Kepler.
Jimenez walked the bases loaded and gave up a sacrifice fly to Nick Gordon — a shallow fly to center that Akil Baddoo seemed to double-clutch before throwing.
The Tigers finally strung some hits together in the ninth, just as they did on Tuesday against Alex Colome. He hit Daz Cameron, then gave up singles to Baddoo and Schoop before ending the game.