LAKELAND, Fla. -- For the second consecutive year, Casey Mize begins his season wearing a Tigers uniform here as part of Major League camp. By season’s end, he could be wearing the Olde English D again for his big league debut.
“Being a big leaguer is something I’ve been looking forward to forever,” he said. “I’m close, and there’s still a ton of work to be done between now and then, so I’m really just focused on that. I’m looking forward to when that day comes.”
The right-hander has put himself in as good of a position as he can. He waited on his throwing program this offseason, he said, to give his arm a rest. He added physical therapy to his training to prepare his hip flexor and shoulder. His wife has helped keep him on his nutrition program, even before they got married in November.
Mize worked on pitching, too. He put his pitches, including his slurve, in front of high-speed cameras and Rapsodo machines to create more refinement.
“The day I stop trying to learn is the day I fall behind,” he said twice in his Tuesday interview.
But no matter what kind of challenge hitters present for him, Mize’s health looms as the most important factor on his path to Detroit.
“I’m feeling really good and really confident going into Spring Training,” he said.
The Tigers made Mize the heart of their rebuild with the first pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. His top performances last year backed it up, from a 0.88 ERA in six starts at Class A Advanced Lakeland to a no-hitter in his Double-A Erie debut.
He allowed one run over a 27 1/3-inning stretch for Erie when he felt right shoulder discomfort in his third inning on a Thursday night in June. The diagnosis of minor shoulder inflammation was a major relief all around.
Mize made six starts for Erie after his mid-July return. He gave up six runs in three of them, including six (five earned) in two-thirds of an inning in his first start back. Each time, he followed with six innings and one or two runs allowed.
Mize tossed six innings of two-run ball against Akron on Aug. 17 in front of senior Tigers evaluators. A few days later, team officials shut him down for the final couple of weeks.
“I was healthy at the end of the year,” Mize said. “They decided to shut me down, which honestly I don’t blame them.”
That doesn’t mean he liked it at the time, especially with Erie in the middle of a playoff race.
“I want to play baseball any chance I get. I want to play every fifth day,” he said. “But it is what it is. They’ve been in this much longer than I have. They have a really good idea of what they’re looking at, and they decided it would be best for me to shut down. It [stunk], but they had good intentions.”
He wants to still be pitching at the end this season, which is why he was able to fight his instincts and hold off on throwing in the fall.
“Like I said, [the Majors] has been a lifelong dream and a lifelong goal of mine. It’s been hard to be patient my whole life, not just now,” Mize said. “It’s the same as it’s always been. I just have to put in the work every day and make it happen.”