Mize frustrated by hard-hitting Royals

April 24th, 2021

DETROIT -- put together an encouraging start to the season in part by getting his splitter, the wipeout pitch in his wide arsenal, to induce ground-ball outs. As his first-pitch splitter wandered over the plate for Royals hitter Ryan O’Hearn to line into Comerica Park’s right-field seats, it summed up Mize’s Friday night in the Tigers’ 6-2 loss.

“They're a good team, and they find ways to make contact,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “And you make a mistake and they make you pay for it, and it's another reminder for Casey that execution is critical.”

Mize had faced every AL Central opponent in his brief career but the Royals, who greeted him with the combination of power and peskiness that has propelled them atop the division as one of baseball’s early surprises. Kansas City hit a pair of homers off Mize, continuing his long-ball woes from last week in Oakland, yet did the bulk of its damage against the former top overall Draft pick with a four-run fifth inning built on three singles, a walk, and a Jorge Soler two-run double off Mize’s 85th and final pitch.

“I never felt out of it,” Mize said. “If I get Soler to pop up right there, I’m out of there with two runs instead of four, then we still have somewhat of a chance. [Robbie] Grossman hits a two-run homer an inning later, and then we’re down two runs, and we’re a bloop and a blast from tying the game. But I didn’t do that. I gave up a double down the line on that 2-0 slider, once again a bad job in a disadvantage count. I just need to throw more strikes.”

Yet there was a difference for Mize between quality strikes and pitches over the plate. The Royals churned out long at-bats against Mize, yet made him pay for early-count pitches in the strike zone.

“When you have an advanced team, especially a contact team, that can do some things, they can have a game plan against a guy, maybe even change it in the dugout after they evaluate what a pitcher’s doing," Hinch said. "It’s a continual adjustment game at this level, so it doesn’t surprise me with Kansas City. They’re a tough team, and they have pretty good hitters up and down [the lineup].”

O’Hearn’s homer was the first extra-base hit Mize allowed off his splitter this year, and he was ready for that pitch to begin an at-bat. It came two innings after O’Hearn escaped an 0-2 count to draw a leadoff walk, taking two splitters out of the zone along the way, and followed an Andrew Benintendi homer off a 1-2 fastball over the plate after Benintendi had taken two splitters for strikes.

“Everybody knows across the league he’s got a pretty good split, and now he’s throwing it a little bit earlier in the count,” Hinch said. “I don’t think you can surprise anybody nowadays with the amount of information that floats around. So, execution, execution, execution.”

Carlos Santana accounted for Mize’s other two walks, part of Santana’s three-walk game, but also crushed a first-pitch curveball for a 103 mph line drive that snared to end the third inning.

“It definitely caught me off-guard that he swung at that first-pitch breaking ball,” Mize said. “He’s normally a super patient hitter who draws a ton of walks.”

Mize finished with six runs allowed on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings with three walks and a strikeout. He has allowed five home runs over his past two outings after holding Minnesota and Houston homerless in his first two starts. He still induced seven ground-ball outs and two double plays Friday with a strong infield defense behind him and a solid slider he used early and often, but the Royals averaged a 95.3 mph exit velocity off his splitter according to Statcast.

Keeping the ball in the park will be at a premium in Mize's next start, when the Tigers go to Chicago next week to face the White Sox with a spring warm-up in the forecast.

Mize’s counterpart, Mike Minor, held Detroit hitless for four innings before ’s single and Grossman’s home run accounted for Detroit’s scoring in the fifth. Minor struck out nine Tigers over 5 2/3 innings. nearly closed the gap further with a drive deep down the left-field line that carried just foul, but he hit a line-drive single into left field two pitches later for his first Major League hit as his parents sat in the stands.