Casey Mize takes learning points out of solid outing in Tigers spring win

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
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Bradenton, Fla. — Casey Mize has five above average to elite pitches. That's why the Tigers took him with the first overall pick in the draft in 2018. That's why he's been on top of the club's prospects list since he signed. That's why he has a chance to be a pillar of the Tigers' rotation for years to come. 

He can throw a four-seam fastball (mid-90s) and curveball out of the same tunnel toward the plate. He throws his most wicked pitches, his two-seam fastball, slider and splitter out of a different tunnel. 

You'd think, with that much variety at his disposal, no hitter in baseball could eliminate any one of his pitches, especially in a 3-2 count. 

"Of all our guys, he has the ability to be the most unpredictable," manager AJ Hinch said. 

So what the heck was Pirates veteran Todd Frazier doing spitting on a nasty 3-2 slider from Mize leading off the second inning on Tuesday?

It provided a good teaching point for Mize, on a day where he pitched two scoreless, hitless innings with three strikeouts and three walks, in a 6-1 abbreviated (five innings) Tigers Grapefruit League win at LECOM Park.

"AJ, (catcher Grayson) Greiner and I discussed that pitch afterward," Mize said. "(Frazier) is a veteran guy, seen a ton of pitches. The slider wasn't a bad call, but I really needed to throw that one for a strike. He is good enough to see that one down."

Tigers pitcher Casey Mize works in the first inning Tuesday against the Pirates in Bradenton, Florida.

With a younger, more aggressive hitter, Mize probably gets the swing and miss. But Frazier, like a couple of other Pirates hitters did on , was taking almost anything with spin on it, figuring that Mize was nibbling with those pitches.

Mize adjusted to that quickly, pouring three straight fastballs by the next hitter, Jacob Stallings.   

"Finish fastballs are good for him," Hinch said, meaning using fastballs as put-away pitches. "He's going to get a lot of those when guys see his secondary pitches and the see the usage on those is way up."

Mize, though, said there was another dynamic behind those three fastballs he blew by Stallings — he was steamed.

"I hate walking guys," he said. "When that happens, I just try to fill up the zone."

Mize ended up throwing 45 pitches in two innings — 25 strikes, eight swings-and-misses — which is more labor-intensive than he'd like. But again, that goes back to the Pirates sitting on fastballs and spitting on borderline secondary pitches.

"I felt great," he said. "My stuff was really good and it wasn't like I was spraying (pitches). The three walks I wasn't happy about, but it didn't feel like I didn't have control. I felt like I did have my control.

"But my big takeaway from today was that I was super happy to be in front of fans again. That was such a pleasure. I'm never going to take fans for granted again. It was a blast."

His best at-bat came against the Pirates' Gregory Polanco. It went eight pitches. Mize broke his bat with one inside fastball. Then Polanco battled, spoiling some nasty pitches with two strikes. Finally, Mize got him to swing over a 3-2 splitter. 

"I know Casey expects perfection out of himself," Hinch said. "But it was a very solid outing, albeit too many walks."

Setting a tone

The Tigers drew four walks in the five innings Monday. They have now drawn 16 walks in three spring games. Some of that is because it's early and pitchers are still a little erratic. But some of it has been the result of good, patient at-bats.

"We've take a few walks in the right fashion and at the right time," Hinch said. "They've been competitive walks — trying to put the ball in play with two strikes, trying to put the ball in play with runners in scoring position or leading off an inning.

"Those are notable things."

Especially for a team who has been at or near the bottom in on-base percentage the last three years. 

Game bits

Spencer Torkelson, the first overall pick in the draft last year, made his spring debut. He got into the game in the third inning, pinch-running for Willi Castro. He played two innings at third and drew a walk in his only at-bat. He scored on a two-run double by JaCoby Jones

... It was another good offensive day for Castro. He lined a home run over the center field fence, more than 400 feet, in the first inning. He also singled in a run in the third.

... Rule 5 outfielder Akil Baddoo continues to make the most of his early showcase. After striking out his first time up, the left-handed hitter laced an RBI double into the left-field corner. He drew a walk in his last at-bat. He can look overmatched on breaking balls and off-speed pitches at times, but he attacks fastballs.  

... At least Jake Rogers is keeping his sense of humor. He's struck out in all four of his at-bats this spring. "I heard him talk about it," Hinch said. "He said, 'The object is to hit that little white ball.' At least he's poking fun at himself, but, you know, contact is your friend." 

Around the horn

The Tigers are hopeful Michael Fulmer can pass his COVID-19 intake testing in time to make his first start of the spring on Saturday. Fulmer’s wife Kelsey gave birth last week to the couple’s second child, a girl.

… Hinch said Renato Nunez, Nomar Mazara and Victor Reyes are also in Lakeland waiting to be cleared to enter camp. The only two players still not in country are Jonathan Schoop and Wily Peralta. “I’ve texted back and forth with Schoop,” Hinch said. “He is working with the government (Curacao). He wants to be here but there is a process.”

Twitter: @cmccosky

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