Mize's control falters in clash with Bieber

September 18th, 2020

DETROIT -- Shane Bieber is where wants to eventually get, topping the pitching staff of a contending team while closing in on a potential American League Cy Young Award and pitching triple crown. They shared the same mound at Comerica Park, but Thursday’s 10-3 Tigers loss to the Indians showed the lessons Mize has to learn along the way.

“I definitely want to be thought of as that kind of player,” Mize said. “He's really good and having a very impressive year and he's very well thought of, and I definitely want to be that kind of player in the future. There's just a lot of work that’s got to be done, and it’s got to translate to results on the field before that happens. But I really do believe that’s the kind of player that I can be, so I’m just going to do everything I can to get there.”

What looked to be a matchup of aces present and future instead became a battle between Mize and his command in his sixth Major League start. Five days after Mize dueled Lucas Giolito in Chicago with five no-hit innings, his pitching duel opposite Bieber fell apart with two home runs from José Ramírez, then three fourth-inning walks.

Fastball command was key for Mize to keep the formidable White Sox lineup contained last week. On Thursday, the fastball looked at times like the only pitch Mize could command, and even that faded against an Indians lineup that struggled against offspeed pitches when the Tigers took two of three in Cleveland last month.

“He just kind of lost command of his fastball, of all his pitches,” manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Mize retired nine of 10 batters through his first three innings, but his lone exception was costly. His splitter, normally a wipeout pitch, was a first-inning hanger to Ramírez, who sent it 404 feet into the right-field seats for a 1-0 lead and the first Major League homer off Mize’s splitter.

“I actually tried to throw that one for a strike,” Mize said, “and [catcher Austin Romine] was actually wanting it a little lower. It was a 2-1 count, so I wanted to even it up, and Romey thought he was going to be really aggressive, and so he wished I would’ve buried it. That’s just something I have to learn from. It’s just things like that I have to learn from and improve upon.”

Mize retired Cleveland’s next seven batters, reaching 96 mph with his fastball, until a Cesar Hernandez leadoff single brought up Ramírez in the fourth. Mize challenged him with back-to-back fastballs -- one a swing-and-miss, the other a foul ball -- but left a 3-2 sinker over the plate that Ramírez drove 394 feet to right.

“We’d been going in on him to get back into the count,” Mize said, “and then I tried to throw a two-seamer away but just left it over the plate.”

Ramírez’s 17th career home run against the Tigers was actually the first at-bat of the game in which Mize had to pitch out of the stretch. From there, he lost his command, turning the inning into a 38-pitch slog. Carlos Santana took a first-pitch splitter for a strike but shrugged off two others for his league-leading 42nd walk. Tyler Naquin hit an 0-1 splitter for a one-out single, followed by a Roberto Pérez walk to load the bases.

Mize induced a popout to short from Josh Naylor and looked to be out of the inning on Oscar Mercado’s ground ball to third, but fellow Tigers rookie Isaac Paredes kicked the ball for his second error of the season.

Francisco Lindor’s bases-loaded walk ended the evening for Mize (0-2), whose three walks marked a career high. He induced just four swings and misses -- three off the fastball -- in 79 pitches. His 10 splitters produced one called strike, four swings, no misses and four balls in play with an exit velocity of 100 mph or higher.

“The walks are very unlike me,” Mize said. “I have a pretty solid track record of not being a guy who walks people. It’s just frustrating to go out there and walk three guys in an inning and let the inning get away from me. Even through my struggles up here this season, I feel like I’ve done a good job of reducing the big inning, and I wasn’t able to do that tonight.”

Bieber (8-1) took the lead and rolled until former Indians prospect Willi Castro hit a three-run homer off him with two outs in the eighth. Bieber improved to 5-1 with 52 strikeouts in 42 1/3 career innings against Detroit, though Castro’s fifth homer of the season bumped his ERA for the season from 1.53 to 1.74.