Casey Mize 2.0: Tigers hurler using rehab time to rethink, retool pitch arsenal

Detroit News

Cleveland — A few hours before the baseball game between the Tigers and Guardians was postponed Thursday night — it will be made up in a straight doubleheader Friday starting at 4:10 p.m. — Casey Mize was sitting in front of his locker.

He’d already done his work for the day. Guys rehabbing injuries get their work in early and then clear space for the guys on the active roster. Mize is nearing the end of the bullpen phase of the rehab plan. The next step on his road back from Tommy John surgery will be facing hitting in live bullpen sessions.

“We’re starting to pencil in his next program,” manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s going to be facing hitters pretty soon. He’s throwing at the capacity now that he would, whether a hitter was in the box or not. But the velocity is the same.”

Within the next 10 days to two weeks, he’s going to start facing hitters and then that will lead, gradually, to rehab starts, somewhere in the Tigers’ minor league system.

“The next couple of weeks will tell us more about the plan,” Hinch said. “We’re still encouraged by where he’s at. And as much as we want to talk about it, we’re not going to go more than a week at a time until further notice.”

You can’t help but wonder, though, what is Casey Mize 2.0, post-surgery, going to look like? Is he going to feature the same five-pitch mix, heavy on four-seamers and sliders, mixing splitters, curveballs and two-seamers?

Or has he used this time to alter his repertoire?

“That’s been part of it,” Mize said. “It’s been a top to bottom reassess. You want to be a good self-evaluator and see where you’re at and definitely the repertoire has come into that. You’ll see little changes. I’m not really ready to come out with those yet just because we’re in the middle of trying to figure out what it’s going to look like.

“We’re looking at everything, top to bottom. So, of course, that’s going to include what pitches I throw and how to maximize movement and velocity or whatever.”

It’s been trial and error, he said, with the pitch repertoire. But the true test for any of that will come once he faces hitters.

“Yeah, the hitters are going to tell you what’s good and what’s not,” he said. “There’s still time ahead to figure out what it’s going to look like. And even after that it’s going to continue to evolve.”

It was the split-finger pitch that boosted his ascension to the No. 1 overall pick in 2018. But that has been mostly an inconsistent weapon for him in the big leagues. The four-seam and slider had been his bread and butter, especially in 2021 when he limited hitters to a .226 average with the four-seam and .194 with the slider.

Mize was asked if the surgeon, doctors or trainers have advised him to discard any pitches for health reasons.

“I’ve heard no sentiment about any pitch being worse than another,” he said. “Which gives me great confidence to throw whatever I can to get hitters out. I doesn’t matter one way or another.”

Mechanics matter, certainly. Arm angle and release point matters. But, as Mize said, one pitch isn’t known to be worse for the arm than another.

“It’s individual to the player on how he throws a baseball and how his body moves,” Mize said. “We build our arsenals off of that.”

Before surgery, Mize had average to below average spin rates on his slider and curveball. It will be fun to see if that changes with his new rebuilt elbow and his stronger body. Will his fastball velo tick up more than the 93-94 mph average pre-surgery?

Will he replace the splitter with a cutter? Can’t wait to find out.

“I went into it with an open mind,” he said. “I was willing to change what needed to be changed, improve what needed to be improved and stick to my guns on things I felt were working. We’ve done some things I really like.”

And now it’s nearly time for the field testing.

Around the horn

Shortstop Javier Báez is expected to rejoin the Tigers on Friday and be activated off the bereavement list.

… Reliever Mason Englert (hip) threw two scoreless innings for Toledo in his latest rehab outing on Wednesday. Hinch said he will make at least a couple of more outings as they try to stretch his innings back up to two-plus and three.

… How rare was it to see reliever Jason Foley give up back-to-back homers in the ninth inning Wednesday? He hadn’t allowed a home run in 56⅓ innings dating to Sept. 18, 2022.

“He got ambused,” Hinch said. “That’s part of it. It’s rare to see that happen to Jason. He’s been incredible this whole year.”

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

Tigers at Guardians

First pitch: Doubleheader at 4:10 p.m. Friday, Progressive Field, Cleveland

TV/radio: BSD/97.1

SCOUTING REPORT

GAME 1

Tarik Skubal (2-2, 4.18), Tigers: He’s coming off a grinder of a start against the Red Sox. His stuff was good but the pesky Red Sox kept pecking away at him. He ended up allowing five runs (four earned) and seven hits in 5⅓ innings. The big blow was a three-run homer by left-handed swinging Triston Casas — the first homer Skubal had allowed in 58⅓ innings dating to July 8, 2022.

Xzavion Curry (3-1, 3.39), Guardians: He’s been mostly used as a reliever or opener, but his last two outings have been five-inning starts, the last one against the Rays was rough (five runs in five innings). His hard-hit rate (47%) is in the bottom 5% in baseball. He throws mostly sliders and curves off a 93-mph fastball and doesn’t miss a lot of bats (16% strikeout rate).

GAME 2

RHP Matt Manning (4-4, 4.60), Tigers: Against a lefty-stacked Red Sox lineup on Saturday, Manning went back to his fastball, throwing 51 four-seamers out 90 pitches to great success. He was spotting it to both sides, up and down, and he deftly mixed just enough sliders and curveballs to keep the Red Sox off balance. He allowed one run and two hits in 5⅓ innings.

RHP Gavin Williams (1-3, 2.80), Guardians: His last three starts have been most impressive. Against Houston, Toronto and Tampa Bay, he allowed three runs total in 17 innings with 28 strikeouts, five walks and an opponent average of .172. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound rookie has an average velocity of 96 mph on his four-seam, which plays up with his 7-foot-5 extension. He mixes sliders and curveballs off the four-seam.

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