Road trip has been good medicine for Tigers’ rehabbing pitcher Casey Mize

Detroit News

Minneapolis — Casey Mize sat in front his locker Sunday morning, sipping a cup of black coffee.

“I love playing and I miss it,” he said. “I’m process-oriented so all this is fine, I guess. But I much prefer to play and compete, right? I’m ready to play.”

It’s been a year and three days since Mize underwent Tommy John surgery. He’s roughly two-thirds of the way through the rehab process. He’s avoided talking with the media, simply because, as he said, there’s nothing to talk about.

“It’s all boring right now,” he said.

Mize’s workday typically begins and ends hours before the game starts. He’s in the weight room every day and on the field playing catch five days out of seven. After that, there’s not much for him to do. His injured starting rotation mates who have been his constant workout companions, Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal, are entering the last phase of their rehab assignments and are back competing.

It can feel isolating. Which is why manager AJ Hinch threw Mize a bone this weekend and brought him to Minneapolis for the four-game series.

“It’s important for him to feel like a player and not a patient,” Hinch said. “And it’s important for us, too. He’s very much a part of our present and our future. You can get lost in rehab. It’s been over a year. It’s a difficult process.”

Hinch said he’s deputized Mize during games as an extra bench coach.

“We have him check the lineups and make sure we didn’t mess anything up,” Hinch said. “He was probably devastated the most yesterday because I guaranteed him future road trips if we swept the Twins (laughing). So yesterday was costly for us and it was costly for Casey.”

Mize spent the bulk of last season and all winter rehabbing in Lakeland. This season, with the Tigers’ revamped facilities and increased training staff at Comerica Park, more injured players are staying with the team in Detroit.

“Being with the team is cool,” Mize said. “Spending all the time in Lakeland last year, I mean, it was good. I needed to do what I did to recover. But being here, being with the team helps a lot just from the mental side. Just feeling a part of it. Being able to watch guys compete in person is good.”

It is also excruciating. The former first overall pick in the draft hasn’t thrown a competitive pitch since April 14 of last year. His competition these days is meeting the benchmarks and checking off the boxes on his recovery line.

“I don’t want to say it’s cool or fun, because it’s definitely not at all,” Mize said. “But it’s been good to see the progress throughout it all. I can trust that what we’re doing is going to lead to great things. I can see the check marks we’re hitting along the way, which is pretty exciting in a way. That’s the silver lining.”

Mize is rebuilding himself after two surgeries. He underwent back surgery after he had the elbow reconstruction and the only setback he’s had, a minor one, was with the back.

“In talking with guys who have gone through Tommy John, talking with the physical trainers, they’re like, ‘Dude, this is not linear. This is not going to feel great all the time. You are going to struggle at times,’” he said. “Over the course of a day, a couple of days or a week, whatever, it’s going to feel out of whack. And those are the most frustrating days. It doesn’t feel like progress but in reality, it is.”

Those days come when his workload increases, as they’re supposed to. When the volume of his work increases, when the distance on his catch play increases, when his effort level is boosted, the body will naturally push back.

“You body is going to need time to absorb these changes and it’s going to be somewhat frustrating to work through that at times,” Mize said. “But it’s normal. I’ve definitely learned that. Before I was like, ‘Nope, it’s not going to be like that with me.’ I was wrong.”

Throwing five days a week has been encouraging, though, even with that, there have been wonky days.

“Most of the time it feels great,” he said. “I’m like, the ball is coming out great, it feels good, I’m getting my work in. And then sometimes you feel out of whack. When I get a new distance or a new volume of throws, I’ve got to kind of rewire a little bit.

“But we have a really good plan and everything has gone relatively smoothly.”

Seeing Mize in the clubhouse on the first day of the trip, a reporter jokingly said, “So this means you’re throwing a bullpen, right?”

“I wish,” Mize said.

For so long Mize saw only darkness at the end of the proverbial tunnel. But every day he grinds through, every box he checks, every hurdle he clears brings him closer to the light.

On deck: Kansas City Royals

▶ Series: Three games at Comerica Park, Detroit

▶ First pitch: Monday-Tuesday — 6:40 p.m.; Wednesday — 1:10 p.m.

▶ TV/radio: All three games on Bally Sports Detroit/97.1 FM

▶ Probables: Monday — RHP Jordan Lyles (0-11, 6.89) vs. RHP Reese Olson (0-2, 6.08); Tuesday — LHP Daniel Lynch (0-3, 5.79) vs. RHP Michael Lorenzen (2-4, 4.23); Wednesday — RHP Brady Singer (4-6, 6.33) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (4-5, 5.60).

Scouting report

▶ Lyles, Royals: The struggle is real. His 11 losses are the most in baseball, as are the 61 earned runs he’s allowed. He’s been tagged for at least five runs in five of his last six starts. His 91-mph fastball, aided by his 6.9 feet extension, is still effective, holding hitters to a .181 average. It’s also been hit for six homers.

▶ Olson, Tigers: He’s coming off a rough one against the Braves where he lasted 3.1 innings and was charged with seven runs (six earned). His 3,000-rpm slider was hit hard by the Braves (96 mph average exit velocity on five put in play). But in his three starts, hitters are just 3 for 21 against the pitch with five strikeouts.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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