Casey Mize wasn’t happy with the way his 2022 began.
He approaches all teams the same way, but naturally, the Detroit Tigers‘ right-hander feels like he has some extra juice when he faces winning teams, or in this case, the Chicago White Sox for his first start.
After his start, Mize made his disappointment known.
“Execution, gotta get better,” Mize said. “I think you’re going to hear me say that a ton.”
The reality is, Mize could have pitched a lot worse. The 24-year-old allowed four runs on seven hits with two strikeouts, pulled after allowing a two-run home run without recording an out in the sixth inning.
It was 39 degrees at first pitch, though Mize won’t blame his performance on the weather. After all, White Sox starter Dylan Cease commanded his fastball and breaking ball en route to five innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts.
The White Sox won, 5-2.
“He’s a really good pitcher,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said of Mize. “He’s going to be frustrated because of the way the outing ended. After the first couple of runs, he kept us right in there. We just didn’t do enough to win the game, and they did. That had nothing to do with Casey.”
That’s one way of looking at it.
“Definitely got to be better in the first and sixth,” Mize said.
That’s another way.
The first inning of Saturday’s game bothered Mize; with one out, he allowed a single to Luis Robert and double to Jose Abreu. He struck out Yasmani Grandal with one of his nine splitters but gave up a two-RBI single to Eloy Jimenez on a 2-0 slider.
“I shouldn’t have been behind 2-0 in the first place,” Mize said.
FOR OPENERS: An amazing comeback following a touching tribute
His start could have turned ugly, but Mize recovered and worked his way through the second, third, fourth and fifth innings scoreless. In the fifth, Josh Harrison ripped a leadoff triple on a 1-0 four-seamer.
Mize, with a runner on third, answered by striking out Jake Burger on three pitches. He put him down swinging with a fastball. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop and shortstop Javier Báez flashed the team’s improved up-the-middle defense for the second and third outs.
“One inning at a time, put up zeros,” Mize said. “You just start fresh and try to put up zeros, and I did — until the sixth. Disappointed, obviously, in the sixth inning. … Just about every start, I’m going to look at certain things positively and certain things negatively, and just be able to build on that.
“I think I threw some really qualities pitches today in some moments. Contrary to that, I threw some really poorly executed pitches as well, so I got to correct that and move forward.”
The reason Mize returned for the sixth inning, Hinch said, is because he earned the opportunity. Jose Abreu opened with a single on a 3-2 slider, and Grandal, a left-handed hitter, teed off on a 1-1 fastball for a two-run blast and a 4-0 lead for the White Sox.
“I’m trying to go fastball away there,” Mize said, “and I missed completely across the plate, and he does damage on it. Too many mistakes.”
For Mize’s 81 pitches (51 strikes), he used 41 four-seam fastballs (51%), 19 sliders (23%), nine splitters (11%), seven knuckle curves (7%) and five two-seam fastballs (6%). He logged five swings and missed: three four-seamers, one splitter and one knuckle curve. He also had 13 called strikes, including four four-seamers, six sliders and two splitters.
Mize had trouble with his four-seamer.
“I wasn’t able to get into the righties as much,” Mize said. “I was pulling it a little bit. I threw three in a row to Harrison (in the second inning) that I pulled. I don’t think I was in enough to the righties to get some arm-side stuff.
“Normally, it’s the opposite. For any pitcher, it’s easier to go arm-side than glove-side. I went glove-side pretty well, but I wasn’t able to go to arm-side. Just like the Grandal homer. I tried to go arm-side, pulled it to the glove-side. That should be a really quick, easy fix.”
The knuckle curve is a pitch Mize wants to use more in the future. He said he felt “pretty good” about his splitter, a pitch he needs to return to his arsenal after nearly abandoning it last season.
“At times, it can be very good,” catcher Eric Haase said of Mize’s splitter. “It’s definitely more of a put-away pitch for him, not really getting back into counts. Fortunately for us, they were swinging at a lot of early counts, putting stuff in play, so we really didn’t get a chance to go to it much.”
Of Mize’s 22 batters, 10 of them went to two-strike counts.
The power-hitting White Sox swung early and often, the exact opposite of their approach against Friday’s Opening Day starter Eduardo Rodriguez. The White Sox were patient with Rodriguez, known for his solid command.
Left-hander Tarik Skubal, Sunday’s starter, isn’t sure how the White Sox will approach him, whether it be the aggressiveness against Mize or the patience against Rodriguez.
But that won’t change how Skubal plans to attack.
“Coming into today, Casey’s going to throw the ball well and give it over to the bullpen,” Skubal said before Saturday’s loss. “I’m going tomorrow. If we win today, series sweep. If we don’t win today, we’ll win the series tomorrow. That’s where I’m at.”