‘Just execution’: Tigers’ Casey Mize has tough day in final spring tune-up

Detroit News
By Lynn Henning |  Special to The Detroit News

Clearwater, Fla. — Casey Mize wasn’t budging.

Was there anything particularly aggravating or out of whack during his Sunday shift at BayCare Ballpark, where Mize and the Tigers were out-socked by the Phillies, 8-7?

“Just execution,” he said, shaking his head.

Fastball command? Secondary pitches? Rhythm? Anything concise that would explain 4⅓ innings, seven hits, three home runs, with no walks and a strikeout spanning 77 pitches?

“Just execution.”

After another couple of “just execution” shakes of the head, Mize made it plain that, yes, these days occur, particularly during a pared-down spring training, which is what MLB pitchers of all stripes are dealing with after losing three months to a labor lockdown.

“Tough timing, right before the (regular) season,” said the Tigers’ right-handed ace — of sorts — who will pitch in the club’s second game, Saturday, against the White Sox at Comerica Park.

“I’m not going to lose any sleep over it, but I know I’ve got to get better.”

His manager agreed.

“It wasn’t his best stuff or best execution,” AJ Hinch said. “But he navigated as best he could.”

Hinch wasn’t finished.

“I’m really excited for his season,” the Tigers skipper said of a man so talented he was the MLB Draft’s first pick in 2018. “He’s ready to take the next step as a pitcher.

“Casey is as prepared as anyone I’ve been around. He came in on the first day ready to throw games.”

Further evidence of Mize’s “misfiring,” as old Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire might have said, came in those exit-velocity readings from Sunday’s game. Eight batters tagged Mize pitches at 97-mph-plus, with five of them surpassing 100 mph, including Bryce Harper’s first-inning rocket that reached 112.8.

It came two batters after Kyle Schwarber had led off against Mize with a 446-foot clout that soared into Clearwater’s heavens and became the first of five Phillies homers Sunday, with Harper and Mickey Moniak each socking a pair.

Harper nearly had a third in the fifth when he launched Mize’s last pitch of the day so high and far that one wondered if NORAD might better track its flight path. But the ball, which beat the best NFL punt’s hang time by a good many seconds, came to rest in Victor Reyes’ glove at the right-field fence.

Mize was at least able to have some fun with Harper as Harper trotted back to the Phillies dugout.

“Did he (Reyes) catch that?” Mize asked as Harper jogged past him.

“Yeah,” Harper said, half-laughing. “He caught that.”

Mize and his manager expect a smoother day Saturday against the White Sox. All because a pitcher who showed so much last year, and who had been sharp in his early Florida work this spring, figures to pitch with a bit more command than was on display Sunday.

As Mize would agree: It’s just execution.

Torkelson thumps one

Spencer Torkelson slammed his first home run of the Grapefruit League season and his first homer in any brand of meaningful Tigers game during an entertaining second-inning at-bat.

It came on an 11-pitch duel against Phillies wizard Aaron Nola, who was — as they say — dealing Sunday.

Torkelson fouled off six pitches as part of his showdown with Nola that ended when Torkelson ripped into a four-seam fastball and sent it on a long arc, 403 feet beyond the left-field fence.

“I had a good approach,” said Torkelson, who will be the Tigers’ first baseman Friday against the White Sox at Comerica Park. “I knew what he was doing. I just did it a little better.”

It was something of a video-game tussle in which Torkelson and Nola found themselves, each trying to out-finesse the other as the at-bat wore on. Torkelson had seen the two-seamer, the change-up, the pattern Nola was weaving. Torkelson won the match. This one, anyway.

“It was probably the best at-bat he’s had,” Hinch said, although he winced when one of those six foul balls Torkelson swatted against Nola caromed off the inside of Torkelson’s knee.

The Tigers had already lost a prized rookie — Riley Greene — to a foul-ball fracture Friday.  A repeat Sunday would have suggested to Hinch and to the Tigers that a team from Detroit needs a new shaman.

Baddoo figuring it out

Akil Baddoo swatted his third home run of the Grapefruit League season Sunday. That it came against Phillies lefty Jonathan Hennigan was no small footnote. Two of Baddoo’s three spring homers have come against his standard nemesis, left-handed pitchers.

Baddoo’s blast came in the sixth on an 0-and-1 slider that he drove beyond the left-field wall.

“I’m looking forward to his year, as well,” said Hinch, mentioning that the Tigers have been grinding on their second-year outfielder and tentative leadoff man to improve his overall at-bats.

Baddoo had spoken earlier Sunday about some plans to that effect.

“Being on time and seeing the ball,” he said. “And staying in my legs.”

In other words — sight, recognition, balance, discipline. Basics — all of them — that were part of his 357-foot drive in the sixth that had an exit velocity of 98.4.

“Nothing crazy,” said Baddoo, who is trying to keep his sophomore season anything but complicated.

Power punch

The Tigers had only six hits Sunday, but four were home runs.

Along with the blasts by Torkelson and Baddoo, Reyes showed that his quest to elevate batted balls might be paying off as he ripped an eighth-inning pitch 359 feet (112.2 exit velo) for his second homer of the spring.

Gage Workman, who played alongside Torkelson at Arizona State, decided to match his old buddy in Sunday’s home-run spree, also in the eighth. Workman, a shortstop prospect and switch-hitter, batted left-handed and pounded a slider 422 feet to left-center.

“That was a bomb,” Torkelson said of his old ASU infield partner’s blast.

Not-so-premier pitching

Mize’s tough day Sunday was pretty much the mode for Tigers relievers.

Michael Fulmer was the only Tigers pitcher who didn’t allow a run as he worked two-thirds of an inning that included a hit and a strikeout.

Jose Cisnero was ripped for three runs (two walks), while Rony Garcia and Chase Anderson each allowed a run in their back-end shifts.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.

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