Mize shows mettle with 'gutsy pitching'

May 13th, 2021

DETROIT -- The steady, deliberate march from the home dugout to the mound at Comerica Park almost always means manager A.J. Hinch is about to pull his pitcher. The dejected look on ’s face, his head dropping, certainly suggested the Tigers starter expected the hook with two outs in the sixth inning of Wednesday night's 4-2 win.

“I'm panning the infield and outfield and I see [Daniel Norris]. It looked like he was ready to go out in the ‘pen,” Mize said. “And then I turn and I see A.J., and then I let out a little frustration aloud. I'm not going to say what was said. But I didn't see him signal, and I just had my eyes on him, watching him come up.”

Hinch lingered on the mound with words of encouragement for his young right-hander, but he never made the motion to the bullpen. Instead, he walked back to the dugout and let Mize face Andrew Benintendi for a third go-around, this time as the Royals’ potential tying run. Benintendi had homered against Mize three weeks earlier.

“I do like the fact that he wanted to stay in the game,” Hinch said. “And I went out there to tell him, ‘This is your inning to finish, but you’ve got to let it go right now.' I think both of us were really frustrated with how many batters he was falling behind early.

“He picked a really good time to throw a first-pitch strike.”

One high, inside fastball and Benintendi flyout later, Mize was back in the dugout after six innings of three-hit, two-run ball and his third consecutive quality start. Once Detroit’s bullpen held the lead for three more innings, the Tigers had their first three-game winning streak since sweeping Houston four weeks ago, and Mize had his first win since the opener of that series on April 12.

The mound visit was a sign of the extra attention Hinch is paying to his young starters. The walk back is a reflection of the trust he’s quickly gaining in Mize.

“Where his confidence level is, you’d have to ask him,” Hinch said before the game, “but I know I’m very confident in him going out every five or six days and having an idea on what he needs to do to be successful.”

Mize returned the compliment after the game.

“Really appreciative of a manager that's going to believe in me and let me ride it out,” he said. “I'm really appreciative and proud to play for A.J. Hinch.”

Mize remembered his last meeting with the Royals on April 23, the last outing before his quality-start streak began. Kansas City hit him for six runs over 4 2/3 innings that night, including Benintendi’s homer off a 95 mph fastball and Ryan O’Hearn’s homer off a hanging splitter. Both were solo shots, but the real damage came in a four-run fifth inning, his third trip through the order.

Mize faced a Royals team with a different confidence level Wednesday, as the club is now mired in a 10-game losing streak.

But Mize looked shaky three batters into the rematch, hitting Whit Merrifield with his third pitch, walking Carlos Santana on 10 pitches and giving up a Salvador Perez RBI double on his next pitch.

Benintendi’s ensuing sacrifice fly built a two-run lead for Kansas City, but Mize retired 14 of his next 15 batters.

“He took a step back and competed with less than his best stuff,” Hinch said. “As I told him after his outing, ‘You can win with less than your best stuff when you stay in the fight and keep pitching.’ He won those battles, and that was the key to the night. He could’ve melted down and created more chaos and [then] I have to go get him. Instead, he came through with some pretty gutsy pitching when he needed to.”

Mize threw just six splitters out of 96 pitches Wednesday, probably because none of them drew a called or swinging strike. Santana turned on one in the second inning and nearly drove it off the right-field wall before Nomar Mazara made a leaping catch. Instead, Mize’s success came from an unlikely source, his four-seam fastball, which drew seven of his 10 swings and misses.

All of Mize’s pitches seemed to have a higher spin rate, including an 87 mph jump on his fastball that might have helped him get it past some familiar hitters.

“I didn’t have feel for a ton, especially my splitter. It was non-existent tonight,” Mize said. “But I was able to lean on the four-seamer a little bit more. I got some swings and misses on it, and I was able to locate that a little bit better.”