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'A win all the way around': Tigers' Casey Mize ends positive rookie year in loss to Twins

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Minneapolis — Not bad for a guy who very nearly didn’t make the squad out of spring training.

Casey Mize put a bow on a 30-start rookie season Wednesday night, going four innings in the Tigers' 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. He retired 12 of the last 13 hitters he faced after a rough first inning and ended his year by blowing a 95-mph fastball past Jake Cave.

Casey Mize #12, left, and Eric Haase #13 of the Detroit Tigers walk to the dugout after the first inning at Target Field on September 29, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“Yeah, just remember how close he was to not making the team out of camp,” manager AJ Hinch said. “There was a lot of talk in spring training that he wouldn’t. The 30 starts matter. It matters in how much pride he took in fighting his way on the club and then posting every single time we asked him to take the ball.”

Mize, after making seven starts and throwing 27.1 innings last year, logged 150.1 this season with a 3.71 ERA – the fifth lowest by a Tigers rookie since 1947. He posted an American League rookie-best 12 quality starts.  

"I'm proud of the fact I was able to make 30 starts and pitch 150 innings," Mize said. "There have been a lot of players in 2020 and 2021 who went down with injuries or missed some time. I am so proud of the fact I was able to avoid the injured list and to be here and provide value." 

Not only did he go wire-to-wire, he was able to keep his ERA in the mid-3.0 range since the beginning of May. 

"As for my performance, I am honestly proud," Mize said. "If you said I was going to make 30 starts, go 150 innings and have a 3.7 ERA, I think that's a win all the way around."

BOX SCORE: Twins 5, Tigers 2

Mize was down 3-0 before he recorded an out Wednesday night. After a pair of softly-struck singles, Jorge Polanco launched a first-pitch fastball (94 mph) onto the berm in center field – a three-run home run.

"To sum it up, I think he got pissed off (after that)," Hinch said. 

Mize, who threw a heavy dose of sliders to the first four hitters, started pitching more off his fastball and it turned his outing around. He allowed just one hit after the first inning and ended up with four strikeouts.

"I had a vision for how I wanted this last start to go and giving up a three-run home run in the first didn't really match that," Mize said with a wry smile. "It pissed me off a little bit and I was able to throw some quality fastballs after that. Being upset led to some good, FU fastballs."

Hinch before the game, though, made it clear that as good as Mize was, especially after a slow start in April, he is still a work in progress.

“Casey is a really good example of someone we need to have patience with as he develops and evolves into who he is,” he said. “A lot of really good pitchers in this league were not identified perfectly after their first full season, or their first half season or their first couple of seasons.

Detroit Tigers center fielder Akil Baddoo makes a futile leap for the ball on a three-run home run by Minnesota Twins' Jorge Polanco off Tigers pitcher Casey Mize in the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, in Minneapolis.

“They develop over time. They learn their craft. They become experts and you see them settle in and become who they are.”

Mize finished his 2020 season at Target Field, too, walking off after 4.2 innings having been tagged for six runs, including a couple of home runs. Quite a different tone to his post-game presser this year.

"I've definitely grown and gained experience and gotten better," he said. "But even leaving last year, I knew I was better than I showed. It was such a small sample size. I knew I had a lot of work to do and I am in a similar spot right now. 

"I still feel like I have a lot of work to do and a lot of improvements to make. So, in a way, this is a similar feeling — season's over, time to get to work."

Being more effective with two strikes, improving his strikeout rate (19%) will be points of emphasis. According to Statcast, his put-away percentage on each of his five pitches was below 20 percent. 

"Strikeouts are really important," Mize said. "Is it the number one thing I value, no. But I know it helps our team win and that's what I value. I know I can get better in those areas." 

More: Robbie Grossman finds success, stability as heartbeat of Tigers

The three first-inning runs proved insurmountable for the Tigers’ offense. Twins veteran starter Michael Pineda scattered eight hits over 5.2 innings, but the Tigers pushed just one run across.

The Tigers stranded nine runners in a 3-2 loss Tuesday night. They left 11 on base Wednesday.

They did come within inches of tying the game in the top of the eighth, though. With two outs, reliever Tyler Duffey hit Harold Castro in the foot. Eric Haase followed with a long, high drive to center.

Byron Buxton tracked it to the wall, leaped and caught the ball just above the top of the wall. 

"I didn't get my heart racing on that one," Hinch said. "When Buxton gets a bead on it, he doesn't usually miss."

For the first time in six months, Mize will wake up and not have to start preparing for another start. 

"It feels weird," he said. "But I think I am going to take some time. I'm a pretty consistent routine guy, it might be a good thing for me to break that and move out of it and start to prepare for the offseason.

"Knowing I don't have to check all those boxes to prepare for the next start, just get to do wherever the day takes me is going to feel strange. Maybe I will go for a run."  

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky