Mize channels Verlander in feisty start

May 18th, 2021

The sight of at the railing of the Tigers dugout, less than pleased with an eighth-inning hook from his start Monday in Seattle, and manager A.J. Hinch explaining the move, brought back memories of Justin Verlander, who once went to the other end of the dugout to avoid an end-of-outing handshake from Jim Leyland.

“I will never be mad when a pitcher gets frustrated coming out of a game,” Hinch said after the Tigers’ 4-1 win. “They want to stay in there.”

The 7 2/3 innings Mize delivered brought back some comparisons to a rookie Verlander as well.

This is the maturation process, a young pitcher with dominant stuff learning how to use it against Major League hitters. Suddenly, the process is moving quickly. Just three starts ago, Hinch gave Mize a sixth inning against the White Sox as a development inning after giving up a three-run fifth. He hasn’t pitched less than six innings in a game since.

Mize doesn’t light up radar guns like Verlander as a rookie, though he can hit 97 mph when his fastball gets going. But like Verlander back then, Mize got stronger and more effective as Monday night went on, transitioning from a solid slider to a buckling curveball while setting up his fastball. He needed just seven pitches to retire the top of the Mariners lineup in order in the sixth, followed by a nine-pitch seventh through the middle of the order.

“We threw some backdoor sliders to lefties that I liked a lot,” Mize said, “but the curveball definitely was a better pitch to those lefties tonight.”

Mize, the top pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, also handled Mariners rookie Jarred Kelenic, the No. 6 pick playing in his fifth big league game. Kelenic hit Mize’s splitter for a line-drive leadoff single against a shifted infield, followed by a Mitch Haniger walk out of an 0-2 count. Mize struck out Kyle Seager with a 96 mph fastball on the inside corner, then got an inning-ending double play from AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis.

Another double play erased a ground-ball single in the second. Mize held Seattle hitless for the next five innings while allowing just three balls out of the infield. He struck out Kelenic on a high fastball in the third, then used the same pitch for a popout leading off the seventh.

“Just to be able to sit back in left field and watch him work today was fantastic,” said Eric Haase, the catcher who celebrated his first Major League outfield start with two home runs. “He had pretty much everything working.”

With just 76 pitches over seven innings and the bottom of the order due up, Mize had the eighth. Not until Tom Murphy’s leadoff home run, his fourth homer in as many career games against the Tigers, did Mize allow a run.

Mize pitched angry from there, fanning Sam Haggerty on a curveball before freezing Donovan Walton on a fastball. But he wasn’t going to get another matchup with Kelenic.

“I love it. Casey was mad from the minute that I stepped on the field,” Hinch said. “He gave up that leadoff homer. He was never facing Kelenic. He had three hitters to get three outs and he gave up the homer, so I went and got him.”

That point was reinforced at the dugout railing while Gregory Soto won the lefty-lefty matchup with Kelenic. Hinch smiled as he explained the move, while pitching coach Chris Fetter was laughing behind them.

“When we came in, Casey asked a lot of questions. He's curious,” Hinch said. “He was telling me he can get that guy, and I was like, 'Well, you should've got Murphy.' That's what we were laughing about. Casey and I have a great relationship and we have a lot of banter.”

Said Mize: “That changed my perspective on it. And so I just said, ‘Yes, sir, I get it.’ So yeah, it was fine.”

Mize is the third Tigers rookie since 2006 to throw at least 7 2/3 innings and allow three hits or fewer. Verlander tossed eight scoreless innings on three hits against the Astros on June 28, 2006. Michael Fulmer did it in back-to-back starts in his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2016. Ironically, Soto’s entrance to end the eighth left the ninth to Fulmer, who retired the M’s in order for his third save.