Detroit Tigers look to Casey Mize to get back on track against Minnesota Twins

Mar 25, 2021; Dunedin, Florida, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Casey Mize (12) throws a pitch in the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during spring training at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Casey Mize, the top pick in the 2018 MLB draft, made seven starts last season for the Detroit Tigers.

With a new coaching staff in place, that didn’t guarantee him a spot in this year’s rotation. Mize didn’t secure his position in the starting five until he struck out nine batters in four innings during his final spring start.

He’ll make his first regular-season start against Minnesota on Tuesday at Detroit’s Comerica Park.

Mize, a 23-year-old right-hander, is still seeking his initial major league win. He was 0-3 with a 6.99 ERA last season while recording 26 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings.

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A trio of those starts came against the Twins. He was 0-1 with an 8.49 ERA in those outings.

“He’s made a lot of major league hitters look bad this spring,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “There’s going to be some growing pains, and if we expect him to be perfect, then we’re setting him up for failure. So, the growth that needs to happen is going to have to happen at the big leagues.”

Mize has the talent and assortment of pitches — four-seam fastball, sinker, cutter, splitter and curve — to live up to his draft status. Hinch is hopeful that Mize will remain a fixture in the rotation for many years to come.

“He has incredible stuff,” Hinch said. “He’s a great pitcher who’s growing, maturing, and I’m not sure he’s needed to do anything more than that (in his last spring outing).”

Mize will have to deal with a Twins lineup that battered Detroit pitching in the series opener on Monday. Designated hitter Nelson Cruz mashed two homers, including a grand slam, in a 15-6 Minnesota romp.

Cruz only had two at-bats in three games at Milwaukee, because the designated hitter is not being used in National League ballparks this season. The longtime Tiger killer wasted no time giving Detroit fits once again.

“He prepares for what he’s going to be used for in every way,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He’s fully prepared for his at-bats as they come but he also becomes the head cheerleader, too, and keeps everybody going, keeps everybody focused because he stays focused.”

The Twins will start veteran left-hander J.A. Happ. The 38-year-old Happ only tossed 8 2/3 innings this spring but Baldelli isn’t concerned.

“He’s ready,” Baldelli said. “I don’t know any other way to say it than he’s ready to go out there.”

Happ spent the past two and a half seasons with the New York Yankees. He was 2-2 with a 3.47 ERA in nine starts last season. He’s 3-2 with a 5.14 ERA in 12 career outings against Detroit.

Minnesota may have to go without leadoff hitter Luis Arraez for the rest of the series. He was removed early in the game on Monday with an apparent mid-body injury.

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The lone bright spot for the Tigers on Monday was rookie Akil Baddoo, who hit a grand slam in the ninth inning. Baddoo also homered on the first pitch of his initial major league at-bat on Sunday.

“Clearly, that was the highlight of the day offensively for us at the end,” Hinch said. “We can take that momentum that we had and bring it into tomorrow with a chance to win another game.”

–Field Level Media