Twins rough up Mize, Miggy homers twice as Tigers' wild-card hopes end
Minneapolis – Casey Mize will be better for this. But understanding that and believing that doesn’t make going through this rude big-league baptism any easier.
He made his seventh start of the season Wednesday night and it followed a familiar script: He was effective early and then unraveled. The Twins scored twice in the third, fourth and fifth and beat the Tigers 7-6 at Target Field.
"This game is a very tough game at this level," interim manager Lloyd McClendon said. "Unfortunately, you have to fail in order to succeed at this level. He is going to struggle, he has struggled.
"But he's going to learn from this and he's going to be better for it."
The loss, coupled with the Blue Jays win over the Yankees, officially eliminates the Tigers (22-32) from the wild card race.
Mize dispatched the first six hitters he faced. He was spotting his four-seam and two-seam fastballs up and down in the zone, using his split-fingered fastball and slider-cutter effectively off the fastballs. Then everything changed.
He gave up three straight singles to the last three hitters in the Twins order in the third – falling behind the first two and then hanging an 0-2 cutter to Ryan Jeffers, RBI single. In the fourth he walked Eddie Rosario to lead off the inning then left another cutter in the heart of the plate to Jake Cave – 417-foot, two-run home run.
Cave hit a solo home run off Nick Ramirez in the sixth.
"This is the big-boy league and you've got to be able to command your fastball," McClendon said. "He did an excellent job in the first two innings of pitching in with the two-seamer and up with the four-seamer. But he got away from that and started falling behind hitters.
"That team over there, you fall behind and they are going to take advantage of it."
McClendon and pitching coach Rick Anderson wanted Mize to go back out for the fifth. Anderson wanted Mize to throw more curve balls and McClendon was hoping he could end his season on a high note (though there is an outside chance he could start one of the two games against the Cardinals Monday if those games are played).
"He's got to get through that adversity and learn how to pitch through that stuff," McClendon said. "These are valuable lessons moving forward. You just can't discount getting out there and getting it down.
Mize, using the curve ball with the riding four-seamer, got the first two outs before he walked Josh Donaldson and then served Rosario a 3-1 fastball – another 400-foot home run.
"I was not going to walk him," Mize said. "Everybody in the park knew, here comes the fastball. Unfortunately, he hit it out."
All these bumps and lumps Mize has endured these past two months should’ve been accumulated in the relative obscurity of Triple-A. But that obviously wasn’t an option this year with COVID-19 shutting down minor league baseball.
Things that he never much had to worry about at any other level of baseball became distraction points this season – holding runners, working out of the stretch, sequencing pitches. Things that he took absolutely for granted, like fastball command, deserted him for long stretches.
"I go back and watch the games after each start and I see what you guys see on TV," Mize said. "I look at the strike zone and what I think is down in the zone is not. I'm still learning what the strike zone looks like up here.
"My whole perception of what down is is completely different. I can still work down a little more."
The final season numbers aren’t pretty: 0-3, 6.99 ERA, 25 runs (22 earned) in 28.1 innings, 26 strikeouts 13 walks and seven home runs. And yet, two weeks ago Mize took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the White Sox.
So you know the talent is there. The work ethic is there. The pitcher the Tigers expected him to be when they took him with the first overall pick in the 2018 draft is there. Like most players two years into their professional careers, he just needs refinement and experience.
"I'm not lost," he said. "I feel like I have the stuff to be here. It's just the execution and command and sequencing. Stuff is really hard to execute when you can't command it and it's tough to sequence when you can't execute. All of the above.
"I am struggling with that now, which is pretty bad timing on my part. But I'm not lost. I don't have to change my repertoire or add a pitch or anything like that."
He does need to regain the feel on his cutter. It's a workhorse pitch for him, one that he can use to get himself back into counts and induce soft contract -- and it hasn't been there for him this season. He also needs to examine how his mechanics change when he works out of the stretch.
Which is why he really hopes the Tigers will play the double-header against the Cardinals Monday. He wants one more shot.
"I definitely want to log more innings and get as much game time as possible," he said. "I want to gain that experience and make up for what happened tonight."
But even if this was it, he's got plenty of fuel to take into the off-season.
"Through all these struggles, I'm going to come out of it the most motivated I've ever been," Mize said. "It's going to be a tough off-season, hearing what you guys have to write, but all these struggles are going to make me a lot better. It's going to drive me to be great.
"Every day when I'm working out, playing catch or whatever, this time is going to be in the back of my mind."
Meanwhile, on the offensive side of things, Miguel Cabrera turned back the clock to 2013. He accounted for all six Tigers runs with a pair of three-run home runs.
"It's been a frustrating year for him in a lot of ways," McClendon said. "But it was really good to see that bat get through the zone again like it did tonight. Good to see him get that bat speed going."
He hit a 438-foot bomb off starter Kenta Maeda in the sixth and another off Sergio Romo in the ninth. The exit velocities were 110 mph and 104 mph, respectively.
It was the second multi-homer game this season and the first time he drove in six runs since 2013. It was was also career home runs Nos. 485 and 486 for Cabrera and the 1,203rd RBI in a Tigers’ uniform. He’s one of seven players to knock in 1,200 runs as a Tiger.