Detroit Tigers’ Casey Mize, recovering from 2 surgeries, works on getting better, not bitter

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers revealed new information about one of their top pitchers on the first day of spring training.

Right-hander Casey Mize, the 2018 No. 1 overall pick, underwent a previously undisclosed back surgery after undergoing Tommy John surgery in June 2022. There isn’t an official timetable for his return to games, but the 25-year-old will start playing catch this week in camp.

“I’ve been dealing with the (back) issue for a long time,” Mize said Wednesday. “I would say years. It’s something that’s gradually gotten worse over time. We had a unique opportunity within having Tommy John surgery to tackle this. There was an available time for it to be done, so we decided to get everything better. That way, when I’m back, I can be the best player I can be and completely healthy.”

At this point, his rehabilitation is primarily arm focused.

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Mize had Tommy John surgery on June 15, 2022, to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The ligament wasn’t torn, but because it was stretched, it lost elasticity and functionality.

Dr. Keith Meister, the team physician for the Texas Rangers, performed the elbow surgery.

Mize hasn’t pitched for the Tigers since April 14, 2022, against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. He initiated two throwing programs and pitched in Triple-A Toledo in hopes of a non-surgical recovery.

“I think it was probably wear and tear over time,” Mize said. “But it’s not like I was dealing with pain in my arm throughout that time.”

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The Tigers’ injury report lists Mize with two injuries: right elbow sprain and lumbar strain. The back injury was an ailment Mize said he had to “tackle daily” to function. He believes the lumbar strain “probably” led to trouble repeating his mechanics on the mound, therefore negatively impacting the health of this elbow.

“He’ll begin a throwing program pretty soon,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “As he ramps up slowly, (the back surgery is) one of the reasons why.”

Mize seems focused on the future, but following conversations with Hinch, president of baseball operations Scott Harris and several doctors, he won’t set timelines for his rehab progression or return to play.

He could miss the entire 2023 season.

“It’s tough to make decisions on February 15 about what July 1 is going to look like, about what October 1 is going to look like, about the following spring training,” Mize said. “We have a set schedule and program that we’d like to follow, but this thing is fluid. There are going to be changes throughout it.”

Mize has pitched 39 games for the Tigers in parts of three seasons, making his MLB debut in August 2020. He looked like an ace in the making when he logged a 3.71 ERA and led the team with 30 starts and 150⅓ innings in the 2021 season.

Last season, Mize posted a 5.40 ERA with two walks and four strikeouts across 10 innings in two starts before suffering the elbow injury.

“I’m not going resent them for that,” Mize said of watching his teammates in this year’s spring training. “It’s just motivation for me next — whenever — I’m going to be doing the same thing and getting prepared for a season like they are, so I can’t wait for that. It’s just going to take longer for me.”

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While away from baseball, Mize has tried to keep busy with ordinary activities, which wasn’t easy for him to do at the beginning of the rehab process. He lives with his wife, Tali, in St. Petersburg, Florida. They often take trips to the park, ride bikes and read books.

“It’s been challenging,” Mize said. “I was at church this past Wednesday, and I heard my pastor say, ‘In the time of the peaks and valleys, when you’re in the valleys, instead of being bitter, focus on being better.’ I did find myself in a time of being bitter, and I was upset, and then it switched for me. This is a really good time for me to get better, physically and mentally, and become a better player.”

His wife recently became a Pilates instructor.

The mind-body, low-impact exercise, somewhat similar to yoga, puts an emphasis on core strength and can help improve posture, balance and flexibility. This past offseason, several Tigers players — Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Jake Rogers and Jason Foley — took a Pilates class together.

“I’ve been getting into that a little bit,” Mize said. “I’m spending some quality time and doing positive things for my health. This period is unique, and hopefully, I won’t get it ever again until my career is done. I’m enjoying the day-to-day routine and exploring things outside of baseball that are good for my health, mentally and physically. I’m trying to find the best of everything, and I’m in a really good spot right now. I feel like I’m doing good.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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