It was a strange night for the Tigers, and one they badly needed.
“Yeah, I got the beer shower, baby powder, orange juice, all that stuff,” Mize said of his first Major League win, coming Monday night in the Tigers’ 6-2 win over the Astros. “I got baby oil all over me. I can't get it off. That'll probably be a couple days before that's gone.”
Considering all the struggles Mize has had to wear in his brief big league career, he’ll gladly wear it.
Hinch’s first game against the Astros was always going to be an unusual night, but the Tigers’ first win in six days was beyond what the most ardent Detroit fan might have dreamed. A Tigers lineup that produced six runs in three games at Cleveland matched that total in 4 2/3 innings against Zack Greinke. Rule 5 Draft pick Akil Baddoo hit a 450-foot home run and came within feet of a two-homer game.
But most important in the big picture, Mize outpitched a Cy Young Award winner and potential Hall of Famer for his first Major League victory in his ninth big league start.
Hinch enjoyed seeing familiar faces. He loved the performance from his new guys more.
“An emotional night for me personally,” Hinch said. “I think our guys knew that and responded with a great effort and played well across the board. It was a fun game, fun win.”
While Hinch began the night as the center of attention, managing a game at Minute Maid Park for the first time since he led the Astros in Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, Mize commanded the game. It was fitting, because Hinch has pushed Mize to reach this level since the first days of camp.
Hinch came to the Tigers saying they needed to get the pitching right, and getting more out of Mize was a big part of it. The former top overall pick spent much of Spring Training fighting for a rotation spot, an odd place for a top prospect who finished last season in the Majors, because he struggled to command the strike zone.
A pair of first-inning walks and a second-inning hit-by-pitch hinted at a similar battle Monday. Instead of struggling through innings, Mize found a new level. In the process, he outdueled someone he grew up watching, someone whose mastery of an array of pitches presents a model Mize could follow in his career.
“I admire him a lot,” Mize said. “He's a guy that's really something else. He's transformed the way he pitches. Obviously, used to be a power guy and now he's just masterful in what he does.”
Mize threw just seven of 17 first-inning pitches for strikes, but ended the early threat by sending a 97 mph fastball past Carlos Correa to strand two runners. With runners at second and third and one out in the second, Mize leaned on his splitter, a devastating out pitch for him in college with mixed results since his Major League debut last summer. Martín Maldonado swung and missed at a pair of splitters for the second out in the second, then Jose Altuve hit another into the ground to end the threat.
By the time Mize took the mound for the third inning, he had a 4-0 lead. He needed just nine pitches, all strikes, to retire the middle of the Astros’ lineup in order. It was a shutdown inning that Greinke or Justin Verlander could admire.
“You can’t take anything away from the kid. The kid has good stuff,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Early, it looked like he was going to be wild, and he got some runs and settled down and he kept you off-balance with his split-finger. That was the pitch that kept us off-balance, which set up his fastball.”
Six days after Mize threw 82 pitches over four innings against the Twins, he needed just 89 pitches to toss seven against one of the American League’s most potent offenses. He induced just six swings and misses, but allowed nothing over 102 mph in exit velocity. The few splitters put in play averaged just 81 mph in exit velocity.
Mize is the first Tigers rookie to throw seven shutout innings in a game since Michael Fulmer blanked the Rangers on Aug. 14, 2016, the exclamation point on his Rookie of the Year campaign.
“It means a lot to me personally,” Mize said. “It’s been a long time coming. Obviously, didn’t get one last year and had to sit through the offseason. It means a lot to me to be able to do that, and I can’t thank my teammates enough.”