Casey Mize, other top Tigers prospects dazzle with the big boss watching
Lakeland, Fla. — It was fun Friday for the Tigers to be able trot out some of their young prospects with chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch in the house. He got to see top pitching prospects Alex Faedo (No. 9 by MLB Pipeline) and Casey Mize (No. 1) pitch scoreless innings.
And he got to see 19-year-old outfielder Riley Greene (No. 3) get a few at-bats.
But this is dicey business for the Major League coaching staff. There's position battles that need to be decided, spots in the rotation and bullpen up for grabs, and as exciting as the prospects are, they aren't in those battles.
"It's a delicate thing here," manager Ron Gardenhire said after the 5-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Blue Jays. "We are trying to get our starters on line and then you've got to get these guys (prospects) stretched out.
"We've got a lot of pitchers who need innings. It's still really early, but as we go along here, we have to get these guys in a situation where they are ready for the season."
Faedo and Mize have now pitched just three innings this spring. Tarik Skubal (No. 4), hasn't pitched in a Grapefruit League game. Matt Manning (No. 2) has had one two-inning outings.
And players fighting for big-league jobs, like Tyler Alexander, Zack Godley and Hector Santiago, haven't had much opportunity to stretch out either.
"We're still mindful of what's the important thing in this organization," Gardenhire said. "We're going to make sure we take care of these guys and make sure they all get the reps and the innings they need."
Minor league camp opens on March 15 and that will alleviate some of the problem. Pitchers can work as many innings as they need on the backfields — prospects and veterans alike.
"It's a delicate situation, though, because these guys want to compete," Gardenhire said. "They want to get out there."
Both Faedo and Mize looked sharp Friday.
Faedo struck out the first batter he faced in the seventh inning, Kevin Smith, in three pitches — two 93-mph fastballs and a swing-and-miss slider. He gave up a single to Gabriel Guerrero then got a break when catcher Brady Policelli threw Guerrero out at second.
Faedo got through the inning in 14 pitches, 10 strikes.
"We were talking in the dugout and we both agreed the ball was coming out of his hand really well," said Policelli, who threw out two base runners. "He stayed really connected with his body and was using everything the right way.
"We were trying to work out some (pitch) sequences and he was confident with every single pitch — that's a big part of it."
Mize, who gave up a couple of runs in his first spring outing, was overpowering in the eighth. His fastball sat at 95 and touched 97. He didn’t allow a fair ball — two strike outs and a foul popup to first.
"I was trying to be really smooth (with his mechanics)," Mize said. "That was my thought-process behind everything. And honestly, I felt like I was moving too slow. I told myself I needed to get going.
"But I just wanted to be smooth and locate well and try to make it a quick inning. Fortunately, I was able to do that."
The hardest part, Mize said, is adjusting to working out of the bullpen — something he won't have to worry about in a couple of weeks.
"Obviously, I want to pitch all I can on a given day," he said. "But it's just different being in relief, more than even just pitching one inning. Coming into the game in the eighth inning is a lot different."
It's not optimal, for sure, but it's the only way option for now.
A quality at-bat
Greene, the fifth overall pick in the draft last season, finally made an out. He drew a walk in his first at-bat (his fourth in three games) and then struck out — his first out in seven spring plate appearances.
But his final at-bat might have been his best of the spring — counting his two home runs. He was facing big-league pitcher Matt Patricka leading off the ninth inning. With the sun setting, the shadows were brutal, and Patricka was bringing 96-mph heat.
Greene took the first fastball for a strike and then fouled off a couple — swinging late on both. But on the third foul ball, it was clear he was measuring the fastball. He laid off a nasty back-foot slider and then laced a 96-mph heater on line to center field.
Jays center fielder Anthony Alford got a good job and ran the ball down, but he the ball popped out of his glove for a two-base error.
"That was a heck of an at-bat," Gardenhire said. "He's impressive, that's for sure. Tough pitchers, shadows, the whole package. And he doesn't wear batting gloves. That tells you he's an animal."
Around the horn
... Second baseman Kody Clemens (No. 17), who like Greene was invited over from minor-league camp, dropped a single into right-center field that scored a run in the seventh. Clemens is 3-or-9 this spring.
...Daniel Pinero, who advanced as far as Triple A last season, got his second hit of the spring — both home runs. This one bounced on top of the fence in right and caromed into the Tigers' bullpen.
... The Blue Jays scored three runs off Tigers starter Ivan Nova in the first inning, though some sketchy defense didn’t help his cause. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop bobbled a possible double-play grounder and Toronto's Teoscar Hernandez followed with a two-run triple.
... Schoop also made a throwing error in the third, which Hernandez exploited by ripping a run-scoring triple. Schoop got two of those runs back with a two-run double.
... Center fielder JaCoby Jones was a late scratch Friday. He was feeling some tightness in his right calf. Derek Hill started in his place. Gardenhire said Jones would probably be shut down for two or three days.
.... Shortstop Niko Goodrum (groin) may not play this weekend either.