His rehab behind him, Mize is ready to cut loose

February 22nd, 2024

LAKELAND, Fla. -- was nearing the end of his Thursday morning session against Tigers hitters when he decided to step on the gas.

With fellow former No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson at the plate, Mize challenged him with a high fastball. Torkelson, who had hit a Tarik Skubal first-pitch fastball hard a couple of days earlier, couldn’t catch up.

Mize, perhaps feeling a finishing kick, went back to the high heater on the next pitch. Again, Torkelson swung and missed.

“We just think the fastball up can be more of a weapon for me, so I’m trying to work on that a bit,” Mize said, noting that it has a little more carry than before.

It was an aggressive side to Mize that we hadn’t seen in a while, even before his right elbow injury 22 months ago that led to Tommy John surgery. But it’s also a sign that Mize -- his rehab process for his elbow and back now behind him -- can finally focus on pitch design and sequencing instead of on health.

And that, as much as the results from facing hitters, made Mize smile.

“Now I can focus on the stuff that’s fun to me, designing pitches and executing at a high level, which I love to do,” Mize said. “It’s good to be back in that mindset.”

Mize was throwing to hitters in simulated games down the stretch last season and working on pitches along the way. However, Thursday had a different feel to it because of the goal. Last year, he was throwing with no return in sight. This spring, he’s throwing to get into actual games, shore up a rotation spot and get back to work at Comerica Park.

To that end, the Tigers set up a couple more game-like conditions for Mize on Thursday. Mize took the mound at Joker Marchant Stadium, rather than the back fields, and faced a lineup of Torkelson, Colt Keith and Javier Báez.

“I thought I finished strong,” Mize said. “I feel good with everything. Threw some sliders I liked, which has probably been the last pitch to come in all of this, so I was happy with that. Breaking ball I felt was good. Pitched some really good driven fastballs at the end. Threw a couple good splitters that I liked, too. So everything felt pretty good.”

The Tigers turned on the pitch timer to get Mize ready for the pace. He’d been timed in his bullpen sessions on the back fields, he said, but not in a situation where he might want to go through signs to get to a pitch he wants, and not with a giant clock looming in the background.

“I completely was like, ‘I don’t know, the pitch clock’s not going to be a big deal,’” he said. “And then I shake twice and then I look over and I’m like, ‘Oh, there’s one second left.’”

The Tigers have not announced Mize’s first Spring Training game. The only starters announced have been Reese Olson for Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees, and Alex Faedo for Sunday’s game against the Rays in Port Charlotte.

Wentz impresses
Like Mize, Joey Wentz felt stronger as he settled into his session against hitters, flipping some effective breaking balls while getting some extra life on his fastball. Unlike Mize, Wentz is preparing for a relief role, competing for a bullpen spot. With no Minor League options remaining, he could be fighting for his future in Detroit.

“I thought it was pretty good. I felt that I got better with every hitter,” Wentz said. “My curveball was pretty solid, my offspeed was pretty good. Once I saw a hitter in there, I thought my fastball improved metrically.”

It’s not simply a matter of Wentz throwing with more intensity in shorter doses and not holding anything back.

“I think I still have to pitch,” he said. “I still have to work on my game, try to throw the best I can wherever it is. For now, if that’s out of the bullpen, that’s fine by me. We’ve got a lot of really good pitchers and really good starters.”