Mize gives look at winning present, future

Righty part of promising young trio of arms, helps Tigers secure KC series win

June 16th, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- The Tigers are giving a sneak preview of their rotation of the future this week. , like he did the last time Detroit’s top young arms were teammates, set the tone.

With No. 3 prospect Matt Manning in line to make his Major League debut on Thursday, Detroit has its top three pitching prospects from the beginning of the season -- the backbone of the club’s rebuilding effort -- lined up to pitch on three consecutive nights.

Mize started them off with 6 2/3 quality innings on Tuesday night, protecting an early lead while letting an overtaxed bullpen catch its breath in a 4-3 win at Kauffman Stadium.

“Yeah, it’s a good look,” manager A.J. Hinch said of the young arms in his rotation.

The victory clinched Detroit’s first series win here since July 23-25, 2018. Fellow rookie Tarik Skubal gets the start on Wednesday afternoon with a chance to pitch the Tigers to their first sweep at Kauffman Stadium since May 2-4, 2014, part of an eight-game winning streak that included wins from Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.

The Tigers have invested heavily in pitching in the MLB Draft hoping to build that kind of rotation again. They’re not there yet, and they might not have this trio for a long stretch. While Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull are on the injured list, neither injury is expected to be a long-term absence.

Just as important, the club is still cognizant of its young starters’ innings coming off last year’s pandemic-shortened season. Skubal moved to the bullpen for a short stretch last month, and the Tigers are likely to do something this summer to ease up Mize’s innings pace. Manning had no season at all, just a month of intrasquad games at the alternate training site last summer.

For now, though, they’re lined up together again, as much out of need as out of potential. This is what all three dreamed about when they were together in Erie, whether on long bus rides or getting their throwing work in the left-field bullpen at UPMC Park, in the shadow of the hockey arena next door.

They had a taste of it the last two years in Spring Training, together in Major League camp in Lakeland, Fla. This is the real thing.

“It’s exciting,” Mize said, “not only for the fans and the organization, but just for us three to be back together. I know Skubal saw what I did tonight and he’ll try to one-up me tomorrow. And I hope he does. And then Manning’s going to see that and try to do the same thing.”

Mize set a pretty good standard, just as he has for well over a month. His recent ability to eat innings is a big reason Hinch is willing to stack his young starters. He’s already good enough that the team can leverage his starts to not only rest the bullpen, but win low-scoring games.

“That was definitely something that was on my mind, to try to go as deep as I could into this game,” Mize said.

The last time Mize pitched in this park, he shut down the Royals until the seventh inning, keeping Detroit ahead in a pitching duel until Kansas City rallied in the ninth off Michael Fulmer. Mize wasn’t as sharp this time around, but Detroit had just enough early offense to ensure he didn’t have to be. Jonathan Schoop’s two-run homer in the third inning built a 3-0 lead for him before Daz Cameron’s RBI single in the sixth plated what turned out to be the decisive run.

Mize gave up two runs in the third after back-to-back leadoff singles and a run-scoring wild pitch, but he stranded runners at the corners with a strikeout of Kelvin Gutierrez. He retired 10 of 11 Royals from there until Jarrod Dyson doubled and scored in the seventh.

“The quality [of the outing] is more important than the length,” Hinch said. “The quality is what we need out of a starting pitcher every night. Casey came out and had to battle. I think he got a little better as the game got along. There were some really efficient innings in the middle.”

Again, Mize’s slider carried the load, not just over his splitter but even his fastball. He threw 38 sliders out of 103 pitches, drawing half of his 10 swings and misses, plus seven of his 18 called strikes. His three strikeouts marked his lowest total since May 5, but in chasing early contact, the Royals helped Mize save the bullpen.

Skubal will try to build on that, then Manning will face the Angels. Someday, they could line up that way in big games in a playoff chase. For now, this is a good glimpse.

Mize switches glove

The one major adjustment Mize had to make was with his glove, which home-plate umpire John Tumpane made him switch because its gray color was too light. It’s the same glove Mize has used in his previous Major League starts, he said, but the first time anyone has objected to it.

"Either the umpires need to get on the same page, because I've made 12 starts and everybody was fine with it, or John Tumpane just needs to have some feel and just let me pitch with the glove that the other team did not complain about,” Mize said. “He brought it up himself."

Needing a glove in a hurry, Mize switched to Kyle Funkhouser’s light brown glove. It came in handy in the fifth inning, when he snared a Nicky Lopez comebacker headed for his head.

“That glove saved my life,” he said.