‘He’s still going to get better’: Tigers’ Casey Mize showcases electric 4-seam fastball

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — A little inspiration from the Rocket, perhaps?

Thursday morning started with a clubhouse talk from former MVP and seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens, who is also, not coincidentally, the father of Tigers infield prospect Kody Clemens.

A few hours later, right-hander Casey Mize came out throwing mid-90s elevated fastballs past Yankees hitters, striking out six in three innings in the Tigers’ rain-delayed 5-3 Grapefruit League win.

“Yeah, he gave us a real good pump-up speech,” said Mize, with a sarcastic grin. “Nah. But it was a good day.”

The Clemens visit devolved into a playful roast, as manager AJ Hinch played video from the 2003 World Series — the one where a 20-year-old Miguel Cabrera took Clemens deep.

“We got to poke fun at him a little bit,” Hinch said. “In our meeting we were talking about uncomfortable at-bats. Roger threw one at Miggy’s face and then Miggy took him deep. The boys had fun with that. We also figured out that (Tigers Hall of Famer) Alan Trammell owned him (.364/.391/.561), and I even took him deep once. He’s in my book.

“He hit me in the neck one time, too.”

Mize has always had a firm fastball, but unlike Clemens, it hasn’t been his calling card. That may change a bit this season. Of his 44 pitches Thursday, 28 were four-seamers between 93 and 96 mph, sitting at 94.5.

That velocity wasn’t unusual for Mize. The action on it certainly was. It was staying on plane and riding through the strike zone.

“I changed the grip on the four-seam and I’m getting more carry and more ride on it,” he said. “And I think just sticking with the four-seam and not trying to run sinkers (two-seam fastballs) like I was, manipulate sinkers, it’s kind of improved some posture stuff in my mechanics.

“I’m staying on the top of the ball and driving the four-seam and that’s attributing to the ride on the four-seam fastball.”

When a fastball has ride and carry, it can appear to a hitter like the pitch is rising.

“It’s something he’s really working on,” manager AJ Hinch said. “He can move the ball with his two-seamer, but he maybe got a little two-seamer happy last year, especially to lefties. That carry today was really good. He got some swings and misses and had some power behind it.

“And everything comes with it. The slider gets better, the split gets better and he’ll get a couple of punchouts on his own, too. He was really good.”

Mize started his outing by striking out Marwin Gonzalez and Anthony Rizzo with elevated four-seamers, 94 and 95 mph. He ended up getting four swings-and-misses and seven called strikes with the four-seamer.

“The numbers and the eye test suggest the four-seam can be a really good pitch,” Mize said. “I’m finally just diving in and saying let’s do it. And we’re seeing the results with the swing-and-miss.”

It’s not as simple as just changing the grip, though. Being able to command that pitch, and the others in his tool kit, is vital. The difference between a swing and miss and getting beat with a four-seam fastball is probably an inch or less. And Mize was dotting the edges with all of his pitches Thursday.

“That was a goal this offseason, quality misses,” he said. “That’s something I’m going to lean on and improve upon. I don’t want the sailed splitter, the fastball that guys are diving out of the way of, the spiked curveball.

“If I’m going to miss, just be a tad in or out, or whatever — just a quality miss I can work off of and not have it be a waste. I’m trying to think small — aim small and think small.”

Mize still has two spring starts left, but all that’s left to do, really, is maintain his crispness and built up his innings.

“It’s important to remember that he’s still learning and growing,” Hinch said. “Yeah, he’s arrived and he’s gotten a lot of attention. He’s established himself and he’s come into camp already on the team. Arguably, in some years he would have been in Opening Day consideration.

“But he’s still going to get a little better. There’s more in there.”

The Rocket visit

As usual with Hinch, there was more than just an entertainment component to the Clemens visit Thursday. There was a lesson to impart.

“All we really want to do is have as many people in there who have experienced what only a few in that room have, which is win a World Series,” Hinch said. “When you see someone at the beginning of a Hall of Fame career in Miggy facing Roger at the tail end of his career, it’s a great reminder that it can happen at any time in your career.

“Whether you are ready for it or not. It was fun to see. I mean, think about it. In 2003, Riley Greene was 3 years old. Akil Baddoo was 5. Matt Manning was 5. Kody (Clemens) was 7. It lends some perspective on the legends who are among us.”

Speaking of Kody, with his father in the stands, he drilled two line drives to left field. Both were caught, but the exit velocity was 106 mph on the first and 105 on the second.

Game bits

Storms were hovering over Joker Marchant Stadium all day, but the rains didn’t come until the fifth inning. And even then it delayed the game just 36 minutes. The Tigers were down 3-0 at the time, but scored five runs in the bottom of the sixth, just before the rains came again and rained out the final two innings.

Jeimer Candelario was set to bat before the first rains fell. At that time he was 0-for-11 this spring and had struck out in his last six plate appearances. Hinch wanted to end his day, but Candelario didn’t want to give up the at-bat. “I need at-bats,” he said. He hit the first pitch after the delay and knocked it onto the berm beyond the left-field wall. “Worked out,” Hinch said. “He gets to go home happy. Based on his last couple of plate appearances, he probably needed it.”

… Non-roster utility infielder Jack Lopez hit a 405-foot homer over the wall in center and Eric Haase delivered a two-run double in the sixth-inning rally.

Jonathan Schoop had a scare in the first inning. He was grazed in the head by a 95-mph fastball from Yankees starter Clarke Schmidt. It knocked his helmet off, but it didn’t hit him flush. “I was lucky,” Schoop said.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com 

Twitter: @cmccosky

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