Slow the roll: Tigers see no sense in rushing Casey Mize

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers prospect Casey Mize threw a no-hitter in his Double-A debut on Monday.

Philadelphia — The Latin origin of the word patience is suffering (patientia).

Even if they couldn’t get that answer correct on "Jeopardy!" there isn’t anybody associated with this Tigers rebuild — ownership, front office, coaching staff, players or fan base — who doesn’t inherently understand that to have patience through this process is to suffer.

But also, in this case, patience is prudent and paramount.

The Tigers have lost four-fifths of their starting rotation in the first month of the season. So, the clamor from the fan base, understandably, is to bring up the kids. Accelerate the development of top prospects.

Casey Mize, who threw a no-hitter in his Double-A debut Monday, stokes the flames of that particular desire. But jump him to the big leagues now?

Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire was asked, since he’s the one having to patch together a rotation, if he was getting a little antsy himself, especially after seeing what Mize did on Monday.

“No,” Gardenhire said. “Al’s got me a calm person. Al’s told me, 'Don’t even look at them.' So, I am happy they’re doing well, but they are not in my thoughts.”

Al, of course, is Tigers general manager Al Avila, who along with assistant general manager David Chadd, was in Altoona to witness Mize’s no-hitter in person. They will be there Tuesday and Wednesday to watch two other starting pitching prospects, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo.

But, rest assured, it is not with the idea of having those young arms help in Detroit in the second year of a rebuilding project. Even if Mize, the first overall pick of the 2018 draft who turns 22 on Wednesday and has pitched three years at Auburn, is physically and emotionally ahead of the normal curve.

“There’s a huge difference from pitching in college to pitching in the minor leagues and pitching in the big leagues," said catcher John Hicks, who caught and faced Mize this spring. “I think if he came up he’d be fine, but I think there’s still plenty of things for him to learn, and that’s why he’s there.”

Hall-of-Fame pitcher Jack Morris started his pro career in Double-A in 1976 and made his big-league debut the next season. Still, over parts of his first four seasons, he pitched 213 innings in the minor leagues before he fully embarked on his 18-year career.

“Here’s the thing, the Tigers will probably limit (Mize) to 130-150 innings,” Morris said. “He doesn’t have a change-up yet. He needs to develop a change-up. Say he makes two more starts in Double-A and he’s dealing. You can maybe justify moving him to Triple-A.

“The hitters there are going to be a touch better in Triple-A, more disciplined.”

But there’s a downside to having Mize spend extended time at Triple-A, Morris said.

“But the biggest thing is, a lot of guys in Triple-A are a bunch of pissed-off babies,” he said. “They’re Major Leaguers who can’t play in the Major Leagues — a whole pile of them. There’s a lot of attitudes there that you might not want him to be around for a long time.

“A short time might be OK. I think the way Al is looking at it, he wants to bring all those guys up together, within a year of each other. That’s the way we did it when I was coming up.”

The Tigers haven’t officially set any innings limits on Mize, but Morris’ point is well taken. He’s not likely to pitch more than 150 innings this season and probably not more than 180 next.  

“It’s important for him to be totally ready,” Morris said. “But it is just as important for this team to be successful when he’s on the big-league clock.”

The Tigers, under the current system in baseball, have control over Mize for six years. As much as it would energize the fan base, it might be counterproductive to start Mize’s clock this early in the rebuild.

“They always tell you when it’s time to move,” Gardenhire said. “The good ones do. They know what they’re doing and they know how to handle things. He’s a college kid, so he has an advantage over a kid drafted out of high school.

“He has three years of college. He’s pitched at a high level.”

But as talented and poised as Mize has looked, he’s still not a finished product.

“You have to learn to pitch,” Tigers closer Shane Greene said. “He’s got electric stuff. But up here, just because you’ve got electric stuff doesn’t mean you are going to be successful. You’ve got to learn to pitch along the way.

“But, I mean, he might not have to do that until he gets here. His stuff is that good.”

Mental and emotional preparedness are part of the equation, as well.

“I think the biggest thing is being able to have their struggles for the first time in the minor leagues,” Greene said. “Once they get here, they are going to struggle at some point and the lights are going to be brighter and the media is going to be on you.

“In the minor leagues, you learn how to deal with it yourself. If you never get the opportunity to do that and you get here and have your first struggle — especially for a guy like him — it’s going to be everywhere because he’s one-one (first pick of the first round).”

That said, Greene believes Mize will be able to handle it, regardless when the inevitable struggle happens.

“I know Casey personally and I know he’s got the make-up to be very successful in the game of baseball,” Greene said. “I don’t think something like that would affect him as much as some others. He’s going to be good.”

Gardenhire said not to be fooled by Mize’s no-hitter, he expects Double-A hitters to provide a good test for him.

“It’s not always going to be perfect, no matter where you are at,” he said. “If a guy has a bat in his hand, he has a chance to beat you. And sometimes it’s not a bad to let a guy get his brains beat in a little bit. I’m sure he’s going to have his moments at Double-A.

“It’s a good league with a lot of prospects. He’s going to have some moments where the ball is flying all around. I don’t think he’s going to throw a no-hitter every game. He’s going to have some challenges.”   

Tigers at Phillies

First pitch: 7:05 p.m. Wednesday, Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Scouting report:

►RHP Aaron Nola (2-0, 5.68), Phillies: It appears the Tigers are catching him on the bounce-back. After a horrendous first four starts (17 runs, 11 walks, five home runs in 19.1 innings), his last two have been better (four runs, a 13-2 strikeout-to-walk rate in 12.1 innings). The home runs are still an issue — he’s allowed seven already.

►LHP Daniel Norris (1-0, 3.93), Tigers: The Tigers had to adjust their rotation plans after Tyson Ross went on paternity leave Tuesday. The Tigers moved Spencer Turnbull up to pitch Tuesday, which enabled Norris to slot in on regular, five days rest. He grinded through a 10-hit, four-run outing over five innings in his last start.

Twitter: @cmccosky