Tigers rookie Casey Mize nets first big-league win in Hinch's return to Houston

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
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Houston – After a miserable weekend in Cleveland, the Tigers decided to have some fun in Houston town Monday.

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Casey Mize, left, and catcher Grayson Greiner, right, confer on the mound during the first inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros Monday, April 12, 2021, in Houston.

It started with a warm welcome back tribute to Tigers manager AJ Hinch – complete with a video montage and a standing ovation from the crowd of 15,779 at Minute Maid Park – and transitioned smoothly into a mostly comfortable 6-2 victory over the American League West leading Astros. 

And it ended with starting pitcher Casey Mize getting the standard beer, orange juice, baby powder and baby oil shower after earning his first Major League victory.

"I have baby oil all over me," said Mize, who was masterful in seven shutout innings. "It's going to be a couple of days before that is gone."

Mize allowed just four hits and needed 89 pitches to get through his seven innings.

"It means a lot," he said. "It means a lot for our club after we'd dropped four straight. We definitely needed to come in here and get off to a good start and we did that. And it means a lot to me personally.

"It's been a long time coming. Obviously I didn't get (a win) last year and I had to sit through the long offseason without having one. It means a lot to me and I can't thank my teammates enough for making it happen."

The last Tigers rookie pitcher to throw at least seven shutout innings? Michael Fulmer on Aug. 14, 2016 against Texas when he threw a complete game shutout. 

Mize's splitter was as effective as it’s ever been at the big-league level. He threw 26 of them and the Astros hitters were beating it into the ground. Mize got 11 ground-ball outs, five with the splitter.

The average exit velocity on those five splitters the Astros put in play was a meek 81.6 mph. 

"It was really good," said catcher Grayson Greiner, whose two-run home run off Zack Greinke in the second inning got the Tigers off and running. "We didn't really talk too much about what pitch we wanted to feature. We talked about a general game plan but it just kind of unfolded."

The splitter got him out of trouble in the first and second innings. With two on in the first, he’d gotten ahead of Carlos Correa with two splitters, then he froze him with a 97-mph elevated fastball.

Akil Baddoo #60 of the Detroit Tigers runs the bases after hitting a home run in the third inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on April 12, 2021 in Houston, Texas.

In the second, with runners at second and third and one out, he struck out Martin Maldonado with splitter then got Jose Altuve to ground out with another.

Mize’s composure was tested again in the fourth inning. After a one-out single by Yuli Gurriel, Kyle Tucker hit a hard ground ball (101 mph off the bat) that ate up second baseman Schoop. Instead of an inning-ending double-play, he was facing Miles Straw with runners at first and second.

He threw first-pitch slider Miles Straw and got his double-play, 4-6-3.

"He was getting a lot of weak contact and ground balls," Greiner said. "Whenever they had runners on, I was trying to call a pitch that could get a ground ball and get us out of the inning. 

"Hats off to Casey for the way he executed tonight."

Detroit came in as the lowest scoring team in the American League, but you could’ve fooled Astros starter and former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke. The Tigers worked three walks in the first two innings, got his pitch count up over 50 and then started hitting bombs.

Greiner started it with a two-run shot to right field in the second. Then Renato Nunez, who had doubled ahead of Greiner’s homer, and Rule 5 rookie Akil Baddoo hit back-to-back homers in the third.

Nunez, who was just activated off the taxi squad on Sunday, lined one off the foul pole in left. Baddoo hit the very next pitch, a center-cut, 88-mph four-seamer, 450 feet into the Budweiser party zone in dead center.

The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 109 mph. It was his third homer of the season, the seventh longest home run by a rookie since the start of 2020 and the longest by a Tigers’ rookie in the Statcast era (since 2015).

"I've managed a lot of games in this building," Hinch said. "There's not a lot of balls that go up in that Budweiser deck. With the sound coming off his bat, that's a special talent."

Manager A.J. Hinch #14 of the Detroit Tigers addresses the crowd upon his return to Minute Maid Park on April 12, 2021 in Houston, Texas.

The Tigers scored two more runs and chased Greinke in the fifth. Baddoo, who also later doubled to the base of the center field wall, plated one with a sacrifice fly and Greiner singled in another.

Against Greinke, Nunez, Baddoo and Greiner – the seven, eight and nine hitters – were combined 5 for 8 with three homers and five RBIs. The last time the bottom three hitters in a Tigers batting order homered was back in 2006 when Marcus Thames, Chris Shelton and Brandon Inge did it in Chicago against the White Sox.

Greinke had a moment, though, against Nunez in the fifth, where he floated in a 51.5 mph curveball. It seemed to surprise Martin Maldonado, his catcher, too. Because he immediately walked out to the mound as if he wondered if Greinke was hurt. 

"They told me he had that pitch," said Nunez, who had never faced Greinke before. "But I couldn't do anything. Maybe next time I see that pitch I swing and hit it hard." 

The six runs in five innings Monday matched the Tigers’ run total in the three-game series in Cleveland.

"That was a good night for us," Hinch said. "We needed a good performance, especially against a good team and a good pitcher like that. It was an emotional night for me personally and we responded with a great effort."

Hinch knew the video was coming, but he was truly touched by the ovation.

"This is where I get uncomfortable in the conversation," he said. "They certainly didn't have to do that but I really do appreciate it. Big thanks to the Astros and the fans. This place is special to me. 

"But this is the only time I've been uncomfortable in this building. It touched me and I wanted to go out and tip my cap and let everyone know I appreciated it and then get back into the dugout before I showed too much emotion. It meant a lot to me."

Twitter: @cmccosky

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