DETROIT -- Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said before Saturday’s 7-2 loss to the Rays that he had an innings count in mind for Casey Mize. That was before a three-run, 35-pitch second inning that pushed Mize’s pitch count to 48 and brought Bryan Garcia out of the bullpen for the third inning.
“The way the first couple hitters went, I thought he might go four,” Hinch said afterward. “The game changed quite a bit during that second inning, and that certainly sped up my plan for Casey.”
These are the decisions that Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter will have to make down the stretch, as they try to balance the desire for Mize and fellow Tigers rookie starter Tarik Skubal to keep learning on a regular starter’s routine while not pushing their innings much further in their first full big league seasons following last year’s abbreviated campaign.
It wasn’t easy when Mize rolled through three perfect innings on just 34 pitches last Sunday in Cincinnati. It was a little simpler when Mize scuffled in his second inning Saturday after allowing only Nelson Cruz's bloop single in a relatively smooth first inning.
Mize struck out his first batter of the inning, but Randy Arozarena made him throw eight pitches to do it, nearly escaping an 0-2 count before Mize caught Arozarena looking at a 3-2 slider. Joey Wendle hit a one-out triple off the fence in left-center, then beat the throw home on Mike Zunino’s ensuing grounder to third. Another triple, this time from Kevin Kiermaier, scored Zunino before Brandon Lowe plated Kiermaier with a sacrifice fly.
Add in an eight-pitch walk to the ninth batter, Taylor Walls, and Mize labored through the inning. Three balls in play that inning topped 100 mph in exit velocity, with Lowe’s 105 mph sac fly the hardest. Mize’s slider was inconsistent, and his splitter wasn’t deceptive enough to garner much reaction. Though Mize finished with two strikeouts, he drew just three swings and misses and nine called strikes.
“He just didn’t execute quite as well in the bottom of the order, and they made him pay,” Hinch said. “I’m glad he got out of that inning, but we were going to start fresh.”
Mize allowed three runs on three hits and one walk.
He’ll get another chance at the Rays when the Tigers head to Tampa Bay next weekend for a four-game series. That didn’t factor into Hinch’s decision, but it could well end up being a learning experience for Mize. Only once this season has Mize faced the same opponent in consecutive starts, and that has an asterisk. He faced the Rangers on July 7 in Texas, then again at Comerica Park 12 days later, but he had an All-Star break and extended rest in between. He still made the most of it, with four scoreless innings over 54 pitches in the rematch.
Though the Tigers started with a fresh pitcher in the third, the tone the Rays had set continued, notably on the basepaths. Wendle scored in the second when he forced a wide throw from Jeimer Candelario and outran Eric Haase’s tag at the plate. In the fourth, Kiermaier turned what looked like a routine ground-ball single through the left side off Garcia into a hustle double by catching left fielder Robbie Grossman flat-footed. The extra base not only turned the tables on the aggressive-running Tigers, it eventually paid off with Lowe’s two-out RBI single.
“They just took control of the game,” Hinch said. “It just never felt like we were back in the game after the three spot in the second, the two spot after that. They took control of the game and could do whatever they needed.”
On the flip side, the Tigers managed a lone run on two hits -- one of them Miguel Cabrera's RBI single for his 2,974th career hit -- in four innings against veteran Chris Archer before Dietrich Enns tossed four hitless innings.