Mize Finds His Footing On Comerica Park Mound: 'This Is What I Want'

He got a glimpse of his own future -- and likes how it looks.

Will Burchfield
July 06, 2020 - 6:56 pm
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Even though the stands were empty, even though it wasn't a game, Casey Mize was a little jittery Monday as he faced hitters for the first time at Comerica Park. This was the start of the rest of his career.

He warmed up in the bullpen and said his "stuff was really good." He cooled off in the dugout and went through his normal routine. Then he took the mound for the first inning of live batting practice, and his typically pinpoint control wasn't there. 

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"I couldn’t really find the strike zone. I was just all over the place," Mize said. "It’s just a different feel. Just trying to get my bearings in the stadium, I think I was rushing. I was really just amped up and excited. So the first inning wasn’t my best, but toward the second half of that first inning I zoned in and was able to fill up the zone."

Back in the dugout, Mize took a breath. He watched Beau Burrows throw the next half-inning and gathered his thoughts. When he got back on the mound, he looked more like the ace of the future the Tigers are counting on. 

"I was just much more comfortable. I was really able to fill up the zone and throw some quality pitches. I was really happy with that second inning. The first one it kind of took me a couple minutes and a few pitches to get zoned in. First real live BP out in that stadium, so a lot of different things being thrown at me.

"But I felt really good out there and I’m really looking forward to some more live BP and getting into some scrimmages leading up to the season." 

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Mize ended his afternoon by breaking two bats, though not with the cutter he normally does damage with. He got Jorge Bonifacio on a curveball and then Eric Haase on a two-seam fastball. The breaking ball was particularly satisfying. It's a pitch Mize has been working on after being frustrated with it in spring training. 

"That’s something that I really tried to home in on and make better this quarantine," he said. "I’ve been pretty pleased with it so far. I’ve been getting really good feedback from catchers and pitching coaches as well."

It's yet to be determined if and when Mize will pitch for the Tigers this season. The starting rotation is full, and Michael Fulmer will be the first man up in the event of an injury. The organization is wary of rushing any of its prized pitching prospects to the majors.

At the same time, Mize needs the action. He acknowledged "it'd be really tough" to make progress this season without a steady dose of competitive at-bats, and he won't necessarily get that with the Tigers' taxi squad in Toledo. 

"In a perfect scenario, obviously I'd love to go compete against big-league hitters and try to get as much experience as I can this season to prepare to make a run in 2021," Mize said. "But either way, I’m going to do whatever I can to get better." 

The other hindrance for Mize will be the lack of innings. No matter where he spends the season, he won't come close to the workload both he and the Tigers were aiming for this year after his 2019 season was cut short due to a shoulder issue. But that's the reality for every pitcher in baseball. 

Otherwise, Mize remains a different breed. The first overall pick in 2018 got a taste of his own future Monday at Comerica Park, and it left him hungrier for more. 

"No doubt. Every time I toe the rubber I want it to be up here. I just want that to be my reality," he said. "It’s really good to get back out there and just feel that mound and look at the stadium and realize that this is what I want on a consistent basis -- and I’m going to do whatever I can to make that happen."