Casey Mize impresses Tigers hitters with poise, mid-90s riding heater

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers pitcher Casey Mize throws live batting practice during the team's workout Tuesday at spring training in Lakeland, Fla.

Lakeland, Fla. — Leave it to the skipper to put everything in proper perspective.

Ron Gardenhire took in all the hoopla surrounding Casey Mize’s first live batting practice session Tuesday and, while he didn’t exactly pour cold water on it, he encouraged everyone to chill.

“I saw him, from afar,” Gardenhire said, shaking his head. “The ball was jumping and the video guys were all, ‘Wow, he was standing at 95 mph.’ I just want him to get his arm in shape and be able to get people out.

“The ball flew out of his hand, we all know that. That’s why he was the top pick. But I try not to put too much on that.”

Nope. In the grand scheme of a baseball season, the first live BP for any player is all but meaningless. But, on a steamy Tuesday, the second day of full-squad practices, with the first exhibition game still five days away, watching the top pick of the 2018 draft throw his first live batting practice against big league hitters was at least a nice diversion.

"He's impressive," said Grayson Greiner, who caught Mize's session.

Most of the Tigers front office, pitching coach Rick Anderson, pitching coordinator A.J. Sager, and thousands of dollars worth of video equipment were all locked in on Mize, as he faced Jordy Mercer, John Hicks and Niko Goodrum in a 10-minute live session.

“He has a great arm,” said Hicks, who was the only one of the three to put the ball in play against Mize. “It was his first live BP and he had the whole crew behind the turtle (screen) seeing what he was doing. I think he tried to overthrow at times and it made him be around the zone.

“Grayson and myself talked to him after. Just, 'Hey, we know you want to make a great impression and show everybody how good you are on the first day,' but he’s got to learn to control his effort level.”

Mize threw all of his pitches — two-seam, four-seam, cutter, splitter and slurve. His fastball was consistently at 95-96, and by all accounts, it was lively.

“He was trying to impress, obviously, it’s his first camp,” Mercer said. “He’s going to learn a lot of things. But what impressed me most was the way the ball came out of his hand and the late life he had on his fastball.

“There’s only certain guys that have that. He was 95-96 every pitch, but it had that late ride on it. That’s tough to hit. It gets on you quick.”

Mize’s personal take on the session: Just OK.

“I took some positives from it,” he said. “First time doing it, it’s not going to be perfect. But I started off pretty well, then got a little tired trying to do too much at the end. I lost a little command. But overall, I thought it went well.”

Mize didn’t think he was necessarily over-amped. In fact, he said there wasn't much of an adrenaline rush and that he was just trying to have fun and enjoy finally facing big-league hitters.

“I just wanted to throw to hitters,” he said. “The goal was to throw all my pitches, keep working on the slurve and throw everything for strikes. I did that, but at the end, it kind of got away from me.”

As Gardenhire said, that Mize showed dominant stuff was not a revelation. His maturity, though, seems well beyond his years.

“His intensity on the mound,” Greiner said. “Just how focused he is for a younger guy. First year in big-league camp, first year in spring training at all, he’s got a lot of poise. Being the one-one pick (first taken in the first round), he knows a lot of people are watching him.

“But you wouldn’t know that from watching him. He goes about his business very professionally. He’s very mature, poised and confident.”

Next step for Mize will be to face another team. Gardenhire said Mize will work an inning on Friday against Southeastern University at Marchant Stadium, the Tigers annual pre-Grapefruit League tune-up.

Spencer Turnbull is expected to start Friday. Prospect Kyle Funkhouser is also expected to pitch an inning.

Twitter: @cmccosky