“I’ve obviously had a lot of not really great starts to begin my career, but man, this is one of if not the most disappointing one for me,” Mize said.
If he makes the progression the Tigers hope, he might think better about it later. The Tigers’ loss to open Thursday’s doubleheader might end up being one of the bigger steps in his development.
For the second time in eight months, Mize was in a pitching duel on the south side of Chicago, this time shutting down the White Sox for four innings and out-pitching White Sox counterpart Carlos Rodón. Two hits and two walks fueled a three-run fifth inning that doomed him, but manager A.J. Hinch stuck with him to let the learning process play out.
Mize finished the fifth inning, then pitched back into trouble with a Yoán Moncada leadoff double in the sixth. The White Sox had a chance to break the game open, but Hinch stuck with his talented youngster, just as he stuck with him following an up-and-down Spring Training. Mize got through it, retiring the middle of Chicago’s lineup.
The Tigers couldn’t rally, but it was important that Mize did.
“I appreciate him trusting in me,” Mize said. “I definitely appreciate a manager allowing me to work through moments like that.”
Hinch explained his decision to let Mize work deep into the game.
"He was throwing the ball fine, so when he gets to go back out for the [sixth] inning, that is a developmental inning for him," Hinch said. "And we were still in the game. He was throwing the ball as well as he's thrown in the last couple of weeks. So I thought as long as he was strong, and as long as he was getting back to executing the way he was the first four innings, he was a good option for us to get deeper into that game. ... He was throwing the ball great. And if you want to be elite at this level, that's another example of what's necessary when you give up a couple runs. The game's not over."
On the same mound where Mize took a no-hit bid into the sixth inning opposite Lucas Giolito last September, the young right-hander looked in form Thursday, allowing only a José Abreu walk and Zack Collins single through four innings. He needed just 48 pitches to get that far, including eight swings and misses using a repertoire he mixed confidently. He racked up three consecutive strikeouts from the third inning into the fourth on different pitches, fanning Leury García on a slider, Tim Anderson checking at a high fastball and Adam Eaton on a curveball.
Mize needed to put up zeros to protect the slim lead Detroit’s offense built off Rodón, whose three perfect innings brought memories of the no-hitter he threw two weeks ago. The Tigers racked up seven strikeouts and two infield outs the first time through the order against the left-hander. Robbie Grossman singled leading off the fourth, stole second and scored when Jonathan Schoop laced a ground ball inside the third-base line for a two-out RBI double, a much-needed bit of small-ball offense from a team that has struggled with contact.
Mize took the mound for the fifth with a one-run lead, but paid for a 1-2 fastball over the plate to Jake Lamb, whose leadoff single seemingly got Mize out of rhythm. Eight of his next nine pitches missed the strike zone, and the exception barely caught the top edge. The back-to-back walks loaded the bases with nobody out.
“It’s just execution,” Mize said. “We try to elevate a 1-2 to Lamb and I leave it over the heart of the plate. If I execute there, maybe the two walks don’t follow. I kind of lost a little bit of command there, walked two, loaded the bases, and then obviously you’re in a tough spot.”
After a mound meeting with pitching coach Chris Fetter, Mize put Billy Hamilton in an 0-2 hole. He didn’t get the strikeout, but Hamilton’s grounder down the first-base line looked like a potential double play. First baseman Miguel Cabrera thought the same and rushed a grab in hopes of an out at the plate, bobbling the ball. Cabrera still retired Hamilton sliding into first, but Lamb scored to tie it.
Mize’s next pitch to Garcia rendered the play moot. Garcia lined a first-pitch splitter back up the middle to score two.
“In that situation, a lot of guys are swinging at the first pitch with runners in scoring position,” Mize said. “I just should have buried it instead of leaving it in the zone.”
Mize still finished with six strikeouts over as many innings, allowing three runs on four hits. It was a quality start against a team that knows him, and a teaching moment as he learns more about himself as a pitcher.