'The kid is special': Casey Mize makes history in debut, but Tigers' losing skid extends to 8
Chicago – How do you reconcile this?
You are 23 years old and you just realized your life-long goal of pitching in the Major Leagues. You struck out seven hitters with no walks over 4.1 innings, but you gave back a lead and your team ultimately lost.
How do you deal with such an emotional tug-of-war? Welcome to Casey Mize's world.
"It was just so much fun," Mize said. "It was everything I dream of, but I feel like I should've done more for my team. After Candy (Jeimer Candelario) hit that big home run, as a starting pitcher, I have to get a shut-down inning and I didn't do that.
"So I'm frustrated with that. So it's a combination of that frustration and being really happy to be where I am. It's just weird emotions."
In what might’ve been the most highly-anticipated Tigers’ debut since Justin Verlander in 2005, Mize didn't finish the fifth inning. But he didn't disappoint, either, in the Tigers' 5-3 loss to the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field Wednesday night.
Jose Abreu broke a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the eighth inning, hitting a first-pitch, opposite-field home run off reliever Gregory Soto. Edwin Encarnacion followed with his second home run of the game.
The Tigers (9-13) have lost eight straight games.
"It's nice to see him up here in the big leagues with us," manager Ron Gardenehire said. "Now we've got to get him into a routine. We all know the kid is special. He's going to take a few bumps here and there. Pretty much every pitcher I've ever been around has taken bumps in the big leagues.
"Then you figure it out and go from there. He didn't really have much of a bump tonight. We saw a really good pitcher tonight and we're excited about having him up here."
Until the fifth inning, Mize was as advertised, calm, confident and in control – and that split-fingered fastball of his wasn't too shabby either. He ended up allowing seven hits and three runs, but he also struck out seven and had 11 swings and misses, six with his splitter.
"I was just really thankful for the opportunity to be back out there and competing for something," said Mize, whose season in Double-A was cut short last year because of shoulder fatigue. "It'd been a long time since I've been able to do that. And I've wanted to compete at the highest level since I was a little kid.
"All of that made it so much fun."
Going into the fifth, he'd made just one mistake. He hung a 1-2 curveball to Encarnacion, who bashed it 414 feet into the seats in left field. Mize took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the fifth.
After rookie catcher Zack Collins led off with a double, defending American League batting champion Tim Anderson, who Mize had gotten twice, striking him out on three pitches in the third, singled him home.
Anderson stole second and scored the tying run on a single by Yoan Moncada, which ended Mize's night. He was still grousing about the Moncada at-bat afterwards.
"It was 3-2 and I had a base open, so I could have tried to just put it in the dirt," he said. "But I really didn't want to walk him. I executed my plan, but my plan was wrong."
Still, Mize is the first pitcher in Tigers history to record at least seven strikeouts with no walks in his big-league debut. The last to do it in the big leagues was Washington's Stephen Strasburg, June 8, 2010.
"There wasn't really a moment where I felt like, ‘Oh, I'm over-matched or I'm in the wrong place,'" he said. "I did feel comfortable, and I do feel like I belong."
The White Sox were celebrating their own big-league debut. Top prospect right-hander Dane Dunning, an SEC rival of Mize's from Florida, also went 4.1 innings, allowed three runs and posted seven strikeouts.
The Tigers got all three of their runs with one swing of the bat. Candelario, moved into the lead-off spot by manager Ron Gardenhire, ended Dunning's night with a three-run home run in the fifth.
Candelario had doubled to lead off the game, too.
Mize came into the Tigers’ organization after starring at Auburn more polished than a typical draft pick and that showed in his calm presence throughout his debut.
"I remember when I made my debut, I was a nervous wreck," catcher Grayson Greiner said. "He was just calm and composed. Very impressive."
Mize displayed his four plus pitches, though he said he wasn't at all pleased with his cutter-slider hybrid.
"It wasn't doing what it is designed to do, it was spinning a lot," he said. "But it was a weird thing. It wasn't doing what it was supposed to do but they weren't hitting it."
Said Gardenhire: "That's one of the things that's special about him, he's not satisfied, ever. If he gives up one run, he's not satisfied."
And yet, that perfectionists trait can be a double-edged sword, as Tigers pitching coach Rick Anderson has warned him about.
“I had a long talk with Casey this spring,” Anderson said. “I told him, ‘You want to be the best and there is no problem about wanting to be the best. But don’t let it get in your way.’”
Certainly Mize had never heard those words from any other coach he’s ever had.
“These guys can put too much pressure on themselves,” Anderson said. “And when things don’t go right that day, it can affect them.”
He’s watched No. 1 starter Matthew Boyd struggle early this season after he tried to make what was an excellent pitch for him, his four-seam fastball, even better. The end result was he lost the feel on two of his pitches. So, Anderson wanted to send that cautionary message to Mize.
“Absolutely strive to be the best,” he told Mize. “But don’t let it get in the way.”