Mize welcomes doubters as confidence keeps growing

Top catching prospect Dingler continues to prove it's unwise to test his arm

March 14th, 2024

LAKELAND, Fla. -- On the day the Tigers announced Tarik Skubal as their Opening Day starter, the left-hander seemed arguably happier to talk about his friend .

“We rehabbed together for four months of [last] season. And then I started playing and he kept grinding,” Skubal said two weeks ago. “He’s going to be great for us. I hope people forgot about him, I really do, because I sure as [heck] didn’t. I don’t think the league will, either.”

After tossing four scoreless innings with four strikeouts in Thursday’s 7-0 win over the Yankees at Joker Marchant Stadium, Mize’s fourth game since coming back from Tommy John and back surgeries, he said he welcomes the doubts.

“For him to say that, he’s probably right,” Mize said. “People have probably overlooked me and written me off or whatever, and I’ve used that as a little bit of motivation for me. I still lean on my support more than I do my hate, but I’m aware of it. If I’ve got the guys in the clubhouse believing in me like Tarik and the other guys, then that’s a huge confidence boost. That’s what I’m excited about.”

Thursday’s outing was a big step in that direction, beyond the zeros. While Mize sustained his fastball velocity through his 59-pitch performance, averaging 95.7 miles per hour while reaching 97 multiple times, he had good reactions off his slider, including five called strikes and three whiffs out of seven swings.

“The slider has probably been the last [pitch] to come out of all this, and today I felt really good about it,” Mize said. “I felt like it was probably my best secondary offering today. That’s a huge step forward for me, because I know I’m going to rely on that pitch. As much as I love the fastball, and I think the split’s good and I love the curveball, the slider still needs to be a really quality pitch for me.”

Said manager A.J. Hinch: “It’s an equalizer for him, especially as he’s got a better fastball. Any breaking ball that he can utilize, either the split or the slider, makes the next fastball better. It’s starting to all come at the same time.”

Mize has allowed four runs on eight hits over 10 2/3 innings this spring. His seven walks are a concern, mainly against left-handed hitters, but his 10 strikeouts show swing-and-miss quality.

Reminder: Don’t run on Dingler
For the second time this spring, top catching prospect Dillon Dingler showed off his strong arm to throw out a Yankees baserunner. Thursday’s victim was Minor Leaguer Luis González, who took off on an Alex Lange pitch in the dirt in the seventh. Dingler collected the ball and fired on target to second base to nab González with room to spare.

Dingler also threw out a Yankee on March 3, when Jahmai Jones tried to steal third in the seventh inning of Detroit's 7-2 win. Dingler unleashed a throw with enough strength and accuracy that third baseman Jace Jung laid down a tag and waited for Jones to slide into it.

“He can make up for being in a bad spot,” Hinch said. “He did a good job blocking the ball, they still tried to go and he throws a bullet. He’s hard to run on because of the strength of his arm. He’s commanding the position better.”

Speaking of running
The Tigers had two runners thrown out at the plate on Thursday, both from right fielder Oscar Gonzalez. But they also had a triple from Colt Keith, stolen bases from Mark Canha and Justyn-Henry Malloy and several extra bases taken.

“What I was pleased with the most was the pressure we put on the bases,” Hinch said. “We talked about the value of first-and-third [situations], both for the runners on base and the hitter up to bat, and you saw us do it a ton today on different plays and it paid off.

“If you’re going to play to apply pressure, you have to risk something. We want the players to understand to try to get to the next base.”

The Tigers went 4-for-13 with runners in scoring position. They left nine runners on base.

Home opener tickets still available
Standing room tickets remain available for the Tigers’ home opener April 5 against the A’s, according to the team. Great seats are also available for the rest of opening weekend at Comerica Park on April 6 and 7. The first 15,000 fans through the gates on April 6 will get a Tigers hockey jersey.