Tigers' 4-game win streak snapped in Casey Mize's last home start of season
Detroit – Casey Mize, almost quietly, certainly without much fanfare, has put together a most solid rookie season.
He made his penultimate start of the season Friday, going the first three innings in the Tigers’ 3-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park. He will finish his season next week in Minnesota.
Barring any unforeseen calamity or change of plans, he will finish with 30 starts and 149.1 innings. Given all the uncertainty coming into the season about health and workloads coming off a shortened 2020 season, that alone is a major victory.
He will be well-positioned to pitch without restrictions in 2022.
"That was my goal, so I would say I matched expectations," said Mize, who allowed two hits and a run with three strikeouts in his three innings. "I don't want to look back too much on the season until it's over. But I will say that through 2020 and 2021, health has been an issue for so many players in our game.
"There've been a lot of great players who have missed time. I've been fortunate that I've been able to go out there every five, six, seven days. I take pride in that."
But it’s not just that he posted every fifth day or so, the consistency of his work was impressive. After a couple of rocky starts in April, Mize kept his ERA between 3.69 and 3.28 over 23 starts since May 17. He gave up three runs or less in all but two of those starts, holding hitters to a .220 batting average.
"It is important for him to make all his starts and to pitch well," manager AJ Hinch said. "We need him to be an anchor on this staff and he's answering the challenge so far."
Mize seems to concoct a different formula every start. The last couple of starts, Friday included, he simplified his arsenal and pitched off his four-seam fastball. In his 41 pitches against the Royals, he threw 22 four-seamers and 16 sliders.
"The number one goal is to limit runs," he said. "I'm not going to jeopardize use winning the game on me working on things. The ultimate goal is to win the game, first and foremost. But if you look over my last few starts, the four-seam usage has been up and the two-seam usage has been down."
Making the four-seam fastball a major part of his arsenal was a goal coming into the season and it's been his second-most used pitch. Coming into the game, opponents were hitting .230 against it with 40 strikeouts and a 24% swing-and-miss rate.
He got five whiffs on 13 swings and four called strikes with it Friday.
"It's something I wanted to increase this year and I've done a better job of using that pitch," Mize said. "And you're going to see more of it going into next year."
Oddly enough, the lone run was set-up by a fluky opposite-field double down the left field line by left-handed hitter Kyle Isbel off the only two-seamer Mize threw.
"It was a 2-0 fastball," Mize said. "Those don't usually go too well in the big leagues. The only two-seamer I threw on the night. Maybe I should've stuck with the four-seamer."
Whit Merrifield’s sacrifice fly brought the run in. Isbel tripled and scored on another sacrifice fly by Merrifield in the eighth off lefty Derek Holland.
The Tigers, whose four-game win streak ended with the loss, went scoreless with just two singles against Royals starter Carlos Hernandez, not capitalizing on three walks and a hit batsman. They did break through in the sixth off reliever Domingo Tapia.
After a walk to Robbie Grossman and an infield single by Miguel Cabrera (career hit number 2,980 on the night the club celebrated his 500th home run with a pre-game ceremony), Eric Haase delivered a two-strike, two-out single inside the bag at first.
But the Royals retook the lead off reliver Alex Lange in the top of the seventh on a triple by Adalberto Mondesi and a single by Ryan O’Hearn.
Lange had pitched a clean and quick sixth before taking the one-two punch in the seventh.
The Tigers had two runners thrown out on the bases in this one, plays magnified by the narrow margin of defeat.
Haase stumbled, fell and was out after he tried to stretch his single to a double in the sixth.
Niko Goodrum was thrown out at third in the seventh, trying to stretch a lead-off double into a triple. He slowed up and stopped rounding second, then took off for third. He was out on a strong relay throw by second baseman Merrifield.
It was costly, too, given that Victor Reyes followed with a double down the line in left. Reyes was stranded at second. One of eight runners left stranded by the Tigers.
"We were pretty indecisive on the bases," Hinch said. "Those weren't aggressive mistakes. They were indecisive and it cost us. It looked like Niko got to second and was pulling up and Ramon (Santiago, third base coach) thought he could make it. He got a late start and was thrown out.
"It was a frustrating night on the bases."
The Tigers lead the American League with 55 runners thrown out on the bases.