Detroit Tigers right-hander Casey Mize shined in his big-league debut.
Anticipated as the franchise’s future ace since being selected No. 1 overall in the 2018 draft, Mize got his chance Wednesday against the red-hot Chicago White Sox to show he belongs.
“It’s nice to see him up here in the big leagues now,” manager Ron Gardenhire said Wednesday. “We’ve got to get him in a routine of every fifth day, and we’ll see how he does the rest of the way. All we know is that the kid is a really special talent.”
Mize pitched 4⅓ innings, giving up three runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts. He became the first Tigers pitcher with at least seven strikeouts and no walks in his debut. Of his three runs, two came in the fifth inning, when he was chased after 73 total pitches.
Free Press sports writer Evan Petzold grades Mize’s MLB debut after Wednesday’s 5-3 loss to the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field:
Mize hit his spots and was solid despite a couple of misfires. He painted the corners in the first inning, producing swinging strikeouts of Yoan Moncada on a perfectly placed splitter and Eloy Jimenez with an outside cutter. He toyed with Tim Anderson in the third inning, one of the best hitters in the league, by jamming him with a 94 mph fastball before coming back with an 87 mph splitter to punch him out swinging.
The way Mize pitched to slugger Edwin Encarnacion proved he is able to adjust against veterans. After hanging a curveball in the second inning to Encarnacion — a 415-foot “welcome to the big leagues” home run — Mize attacked him in the fourth, putting two fastballs in the strike zone — one for a foul ball, another for a swinging strike. While Encarnacion waited for a splitter to break, Mize adjusted and sent him a slider that broke well outside of the zone. Encarnacion couldn’t counter quick enough, forcing an ugly swing for a three-pitch strikeout.
In the fifth inning, he missed on a couple of splitters, which ended up costing him the lead and led to his removal from the game.
Mize’s thoughts: “The splitter, I was really commanding that well and getting what I wanted out of that. And then the fifth came around, and I left one up to (Zack) Collins (for a double). I think he swings through that if I locate it down and bury that like I had been doing all game. That probably completely changes the inning. I really hate that I left that up to him. To Moncada, it was a 3-2 splitter. Looking back, hindsight 20-20, there’s a base open. I probably should have taken my chances to bury that one. But I really didn’t want to walk him, so I tried to throw it for a strike, and I did. He ended up hitting it and driving in a run. Like I said, hindsight 20-20, I wish I could’ve buried both of those, and (then) I think the inning is a lot different.”
As expected, Mize used his splitter as his strikeout pitch.
The splitter generated 14 swings: six whiffs, five balls in play and three fouls. Because the splitter drops out of the strike zone, he didn’t get any called strikes, but that’s expected. However, his slider impressed with six called strikes and three whiffs.
This was Mize’s 73-pitch breakdown from his debut: 25 fastballs, 20 sliders/cutters, 19 splitters and nine curveballs. Being able to turn to three pitches in high-pressure situations, while sprinkling in the curveball, shows plenty of long-term value as he adds to his repertoire.
On first pitches, he went to the fastball nine times, slider seven times and curveball four times, but he used the splitter 13 times in two-strike counts. Seems like Mize already has a good approach figured out, and it worked to his advantage Thursday with seven strikeouts.
Mize’s thoughts: “The cutter was really not doing what it was designed to do. It was just kind of spinning and backing up at the top of the zone. The weird thing was it wasn’t doing what I wanted, but they also weren’t hitting it. … The execution was there, for the most part, you know, just the plan might have been wrong, especially to Moncada (in the fifth inning). I’m going back to that because it’s eating me up. (Pitching coach Rick Anderson and I) were just talking about how we need to refine the cutter in this week’s bullpen and get that doing what I really need it to. I threw some good ones, had some strikeouts on them, but there were a lot really backing up and staying over the middle of the plate. We have to fix that.”
The game was a back-and-forth duel between Mize and Chicago’s Dane Dunning, a fellow first-round pick (from 2016) who also made his debut. The rookies went back-and-forth, keeping a noticeable pace between them. Neither remained on the bench for too long until the fifth inning.
That’s when the Tigers broke out for three runs on a homer from Jeimer Candelario to give Mize a 3-1 lead. With only one out, the White Sox called for a pitching change, leaving Mize on the bench longer than expected. Once he returned to the mound, he didn’t adjust.
Mize’s thoughts:“(Dunning) had a very good start, and he was pretty efficient. We were kind of getting back out there pretty quick with each other. I think that helps the flow of the game, and that helps us stay in our rhythm.”
It would’ve been easy for Mize to fall into a hole after Encarnacion’s home run in the second inning, followed by a double from Nomar Mazara. Adversity isn’t something Tigers pitchers have managed well this season, but Mize came back with three consecutive outs to end the inning. His pace didn’t change. He never lacked confidence. And then he made adjustments. That’s a special trait to possess at such a young age.
Catcher Grayson Greiner’s thoughts: “We knew we were getting a composed, competitive pitcher. I think he probably had a good idea after he got drafted first overall that it wouldn’t be too long before he got up here. He did a good job. He kept us in the game there in the middle innings and was very composed the whole time. I thought he did a good job.”
His facial expression didn’t change — not once. He didn’t smile. He didn’t frown. You wouldn’t have been able to tell if he had given up 10 runs or was in the midst of a scoreless debut. Not only did he put his confidence on display, but he also showed focus. In the ebbs and flows of baseball, this might’ve been the most positive takeaway.
Mize’s thoughts: “That was one of my goals going into it, just to be really calm and enjoy myself. And I’m not gonna lie to you, I had a blast out there. It’s tough that I couldn’t have a shutdown inning after Candy’s big homer, and we ended up losing the game. That’s obviously very tough. That’s not what I want for this team. But, honestly, I was very happy with how I was able to compose myself. That’s the most fun I’ve had playing baseball ever.”
The White Sox are one of the best offensive teams in baseball. They feature a stacked top of the order, and all of them can hit for power. They’ve done damage against the Tigers this season with a .278 team batting average, 33 runs and 11 home runs. Most of the damage has been done by Anderson, who entered the game 11-for-19 (.579) against the Tigers — one double, three triples, four homers and six RBIs.
Even though Anderson got to Mize in the fifth inning, the young righty locked him up in his first two at-bats. And after left-handers Matthew Boyd and Tarik Skubal gave up leadoff homers to Anderson on Monday and Tuesday, there’s something to be said for Mize not doing the same.
Greiner’s thoughts: “The main thing with Anderson, he’s gonna get his hits. Just have to try to limit his at-bats. Casey did a good job of pitching him inside and getting him off the outside part of the plate. That fifth inning single, he found a good hole in the defense. Casey had a good plan for him the whole day and executed his pitches well.”
Gardenhire’s thoughts: “For his first outing in the big leagues, against a team like that, he doesn’t really realize how well he threw the baseball. He’ll figure that out as we talk. That’s one of the things that’s special about him. He’s not satisfied. Ever. If he gives up one run, he’s not satisfied. That’s what makes him a good pitcher.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content.