'We're better': Tigers put faith in youth in '20

September 24th, 2020

The Tigers’ contention for a playoff spot officially ended at the midpoint of the final week of the regular season. Even with the unique circumstances of the 2020 season, from a 60-game schedule to an expanded postseason bracket, that’s progress from last year's 114-loss campaign.

“We're better,” interim manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We had better at-bats. We pitched better. There were times when it didn't look pretty, particularly with that nine-game losing streak [in August], but we bounced back. All of those things, you take into account, and you understand that through the ups and downs, you will become better players.”

The Tigers were eliminated with a Blue Jays win over the Yankees and Detroit’s 7-6 loss to the Twins at Target Field on Wednesday night, when top pitching prospect made his seventh and potentially final start of the season. Half of Detroit’s defense supporting him -- four of eight position players -- opened the season at the alternate training site in Toledo, Ohio. To Mize’s right was third baseman , Mize’s teammate last year at Double-A Erie. In right field was , who made his Major League debut earlier this month.

One night earlier, the Tigers clinched their fourth consecutive losing season on a night when fellow rookie struck out six Twins in 3 2/3 innings, Cameron slugged two doubles and had two hard-hit line-drive outs and rookie shortstop drove in one run and scored in a two-hit night. Detroit took Minnesota to extra innings before losing on a couple of 10th-inning bloop singles off rookie closer .

The Cinderella story realistically ended earlier in the month as injuries piled up. On the night the Tigers last stood over .500 at 17-16 and within a game of an American League Wild Card spot with a 12-1 win in Milwaukee, they lost JaCoby Jones for the season with a fractured left hand. Wednesday marked their 16th loss in 21 games since then.

This season will be remembered for its many challenges and quirks, but it’ll also be remembered in Detroit as the summer the top prospects began to arrive. Four of the club’s top 10 prospects per MLB Pipeline made their debut, as did three others in the top 30. Ten Tigers overall made their big league debuts in 2020. Castro, who debuted late last season, took over as the everyday shortstop down the stretch after opening the season as a top-10 prospect.

Mize’s outing Wednesday was a microcosm of the challenges they all faced, providing glimpses of potential while enduring growing pains.

“I'll keep reminding you guys, every time out is valuable for him,” McClendon said. “It's a learning experience. He's going to go through the ups and downs. He's going to fail a little bit in order to succeed. He's a bright kid. He'll learn from this, and he'll get better.”

Mize looked dominant through his first two innings, retiring Minnesota’s first six batters on 23 pitches, including two nasty splitters for swings and misses. Three consecutive singles to lead off the third inning put the Twins on the board. Paredes helped with a nice play to retire Josh Donaldson, but a leadoff walk to Eddie Rosario put the Twins back on the attack in the fourth. Jake Cave battled Mize for eight pitches, shrugging off two splitters in the dirt before turning on a cutter and sending it deep to right.

“We tried to backdoor it, and I threw it glove-side,” Mize said. “Just really bad execution. It was just inconsistent again.”

Mize came back out for the fifth inning with instructions from pitching coach Rick Anderson to work on his curveball. He mixed curves and fastballs to fan Bryon Buxton and retire Max Kepler, but a two-out walk to Donaldson extended the inning for Rosario, who hit a 3-1 pitch deep to left-center to end Mize’s night.

“We had to send him back out there. He's got to get through that adversity,” McClendon said. “He's got to learn how to pitch through that stuff. These are valuable lessons for him moving forward. You just can't discount getting out there and getting it done.”

Mize finished allowing six runs on five hits over 4 2/3 innings, walking two and striking out four. Unless the Tigers have to make up their games against the Cardinals on Monday, Mize will finish his season with a 6.99 ERA in seven starts, and will go into next season in search of his first Major League win.

“Just making way too many mistakes, and I've just realized they get crushed here,” Mize said. “I just have to do a much better job of limiting those, staying in advantage counts, because when you get in disadvantaged counts, they have a better idea what's coming and they can really do some damage there. …

“I'm not lost. I feel like I have the stuff to be here. It's just execution, command, sequencing, all that stuff. It's really tough to execute when you can't command, and really tough to sequence when you can't execute. And I'm struggling with that right now. Pretty bad timing on my part.”