Tigers' AJ Hinch isn't accepting fatigue as an excuse for poor execution in August

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

St. Louis, Mo. — Dog days? In August? Don’t try to throw that old saw at Tigers manager AJ Hinch.

“The mental fatigue is real for players but it’s reality,” he said before the Tigers beat the Cardinals 4-3 Tuesday night. “If we get to where we want to get to, this isn’t even the stretch run yet. This is just August. I’m not going to buy in and allow our guys to talk about being tired and mentally exhausted in August.

Casey Mize’s three August starts before Tuesday have been choppy. He allowed nine runs in 13.1 innings. Opponents hit .302 and slugged .698 with an OPS of 1.081.

“We haven’t even hit the stretch run where we’re going to expect you to be good and then good again in October. That’s the standard we’re going to live by mentally.”

The topic came up because Casey Mize made his 24th start here Tuesday. He came in with 124.1 innings under his belt. That’s after he pitched 28.1 innings over seven starts last season. Fellow rookie Tarik Skubal will make his 23rd start Wednesday afternoon, going in with 123 innings. He threw 32 innings over seven starts (eight appearances) last year.

“He’s already entered uncharted waters,” Hinch said of Mize, though it is the same for Skubal. “He’s pitching this deep into a season, making this many starts in a row — so he’s got to grind. He’s got to find a way to execute pitches, effectively and efficiently, and not look to the finish line too soon.”

Mize’s three August starts before Tuesday were choppy. He allowed nine runs in 13.1 innings. Opponents hit .302 and slugged .698 with an OPS of 1.081. Command, which has been his forte, has been off — throwing 59% strikes, down from 64% from May through July.

The question is, how can you tell the difference between fatigue and poor performance. At what point does fatigue cause poor performance?

“First you have to identify if you’re talking about mental or physical fatigue,” Hinch said. “Too many people think fatigue equals the radar gun. There are other ways to show where a delivery breaks down. You can’t execute — why? You have to find the why if someone isn’t executing at the optimal speed.”

Mize’s velocity has been down slightly, but as Hinch said, pitchers can be throwing 100 mph and still be fatigued. Velocity, by itself, is not an accurate gauge of fatigue.

“I despise the radar gun being the only evaluation,” Hinch said. “We will look at it from all angles. (Pitching coach Chris) Fetter will be on top of it.”

The Tigers have an entire staff devoted to biomechanics. Changes in mechanics, a droopy arm angle, less thrust from the legs — it’s all measured. That’s the data that will determine physical fatigue. But in the meantime, Hinch is giving all the starters extra days between starts and trimming innings here and there when he can.

“We pay attention to all the pitch metrics,” he said. “A lot of people weigh in on that.”

Mize wasn't feeling fatigue of any kind on Tuesday night, through five, three-hit, shutout innings in oppressive heat against a good Cardinals lineup. 

"I don't think it's more of a grind," Mize said afterward. "I enjoy it. I'm having a lot of fun. I don't want the season to end. It's not like I'm counting down the days or the starts. Honestly, it doesn't feel like much of a grind for me.

"It feels like I can keep going for a while." 

Baddoo returns

Akil Baddoo, who was back in the lineup and hitting leadoff Tuesday after missing two weeks in concussion protocol, did watch the video of his full-speed outfield collision with Derek Hillat Comerica Park on Aug. 10.

“I was like, ‘Oh, wow, that was dangerous,’” he said. “That was tough to see. I am just glad we are both OK and we came out it. It could have been a lot worse. I’m glad we were both able to walk off the field.”

Baddoo said he had a headache the night of the collision, but started feeling better the next morning.

“I just went home, relaxed and rested — that’s all you can do with a concussion,” he said. “Can’t really do nothing else. Just rest and relax and give my brain a break.”

Although it was was a freak collision — a rare ball hit between two speedy outfielders, neither of whom are completely sure they can get it, but close enough to completely sell out for the catch — there was a lesson to be learned.

“We’re going to make sure our communication is on point now,” Baddoo said, laughing. “We won’t have any more of those.”  

Around the horn

On Monday night, the Tigers announced that pitcher Drew Hutchison was designated for assignment, which cleared a spot for Baddoo to come back. The Tigers presently have 38 players on their 40-man roster. 

Renato Nunez, who was DFA’d for a second time over the weekend, cleared waivers and reported back to Triple-A Toledo.

… Before the game, Cardinals president John Mozeliak announced that catcher Yadier Molina will play through 2022 and then retire. "We are pleased to announce that Yadi has agreed to cement his career legacy with the Cardinals for a final season in 2022." This is Molina’s 18th season with the Cardinals.

Tigers at Cardinals

First pitch: 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Missouri

TV/radio: BSD, MLBN/97.1 FM

Scouting report

LHP Tarik Skubal (8-11, 4.02), Tigers: He’s allowed two runs (on a two-run homer by Justin Upton) in his last three starts covering 17.2 innings. He’s already produced the third-most strikeouts by a Tigers rookie (134) with just 41 walks. Opponents are hitting just .140 with a 47.5% swing-and-miss rate on his second-best secondary pitch, the change-up.

LHP Jon Lester (4-6, 5.46), Cardinals: Once upon a time this was one of the nastiest lefties in the game. But from 2019 on, he’s got a 4.88 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. In his four starts with the Cardinals, he’s been tagged for 16 runs in 20.1 innings with opponents hitting .337 against him.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky