Detroit Tigers' Casey Mize ready to attack with strikes; Akil Baddoo earns reward

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Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press
·6 min read
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The second campaign of Detroit Tigers right-hander Casey Mize begins Tuesday, when he takes the mound against the Minnesota Twins. As the No. 5 starter, he is set to be the last member of the 26-man roster to enter a game in 2021.

The former No. 1 overall pick cruised through the minor leagues butlast season. The 23-year-old made his MLB debut in August, finishing his first year with a 6.99 ERA, seven home runs allowed and too many walks.

"I definitely want to get off to a good start this year," Mize said Monday. "I had a good week of preparation to try and make that happen. We feel like we know how we can attack these guys. It's just up to execution. I hope I can do that well."

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Tigers pitcher Casey Mize in the bullpen during practice on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at Comerica Park, a day before Opening Day against the Cleveland Indians.
Tigers pitcher Casey Mize in the bullpen during practice on Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at Comerica Park, a day before Opening Day against the Cleveland Indians.

This time, Mize isn't solely a midseason addition to the Tigers. He belongs in the majors, manager AJ Hinch has decided, and is confident in his ability to throw more pitches for strikes.

Considering Mize's dynamic repertoire, filling up the strike zone is key to his success.

"I can attack all players with more stuff than I had last year," Mize said. "I was pretty limited, just because I didn't have the feel for the stuff I would have liked. But now, I'm in a position where I can land a lot of stuff for strikes, which is going to allow me to execute our game plan even better."

Mize made seven starts in his debut season. He had a 6.99 ERA, 13 walks and 26 strikeouts in 28⅓ innings. This spring, he faced further command troubles before showcasing his premier strike-throwing abilities in his final two outings.

Mize ended spring training with a 7.23 ERA, 11 walks and 27 strikeouts in 18⅔ innings. He started five of his six games in camp. On March 25, Mize recorded nine strikeouts and zero walks against the Toronto Blue Jays — helping him solidify a spot on the Opening Day roster and in the starting rotation.

"Going into a game, I want to throw everything to everybody," Mize said. "Obviously, there are certain hitters, it doesn't matter if they're right-handed or left-handed, where I'm going to game plan — so-and-so hits the fastball down and away really well, so I'm going to avoid that, doesn't matter if you're right-handed or left-handed.

"But I feel like I can pour in all my pitches to both sides, lefties and righties."

Earning another start

Rule 5 draft pick Akil Baddoo swung at the first pitch in his MLB debut Sunday and sent the baseball the opposite way to left field for a home run. For that, the 22-year-old picked up another start. Hinch used him as the center fielder in the series opener Monday against the Minnesota Twins.

Right-hander Matt Shoemaker started for the Twins.

Although JaCoby Jones sat on the bench for his second consecutive game, he isn't injured. Instead, Hinch wanted to go with Robbie Grossman (left field), Baddoo (center field) and Nomar Mazara (right field) — all three have posted quality at-bats and swing left-handed.

"He earned it," Hinch said about Baddoo. "A big swing yesterday, an emotional day. I think he's demonstrated that he's very comfortable at this level, and I think he's going to earn some playing time. I can't stand in front of our clubhouse and talk about earned playing time, and then when a guy does his job, not reward him."

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The Tigers drafted Baddoo this December from the Twins. He must offered back to his old team if he doesn't stay on the active 26-man roster for the entire season. But his continued success — which started in spring training — makes that seem unlikely at this point.

Baddoo finished 1-for-3 with one strikeout his first game.

Also, Hinch started Mazara in right field Monday because of his recent firepower. The 25-year-old went 3-for-4 with one RBI Saturday, followed by a 1-for-3 performance Sunday that included a two-run homer over the right-field wall.

"Both (Baddoo) and Mazara have swung the bat well," Hinch said. "They know the strike zone and can lay off some of those chase pitches that Shoemaker throws. He's a little bit easier to handle as a left-handed hitter. Giving him another opportunity."

Miguel Cabrera back in lineup

Miguel Cabrera returned to the lineup Monday as the designated hitter in the cleanup spot after sitting out Sunday's 9-3 loss. His "whole body" cramped up in Saturday's 5-2 win, so the Tigers replaced the 37-year-old with a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning.

Hinch said Cabrera's absence from Sunday's lineup was because the cramping and trying to get him a break before the first homestand ends. The Tigers begin a 10-game road trip Friday in Cleveland.

"He's good," Hinch said. "We're going to hit inside with the inclement weather. I think they're going to tarp the field, so we're not going to get any on-field action, maybe a tick of defense for the outfielders. But (Cabrera) came in happy as can be, so we'll see once he gets through his work. I hadn't checked in a ton with him this morning. He left yesterday feeling pretty good about himself, so I think he's fine."

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Walk x8

Through three games, Grossman took a major-league leading eight walks in 13 plate appearances. He entered Monday's game hitless — 0-for-5 without a strikeout — but has a .615 on-base percentage. His walk rate is an unsustinabile 61.5% so far in 2021, the best in MLB, but his career walk rate is 13.4%.

"He's demonstrated command of the strike zone, from the hitting side, for the majority of his career," Hinch said. "It's the reason I put him at the top of the order. He knows a strike from a ball. The quality of his at-bat sets the tone for our offense."

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Detroit Tigers left fielder Robbie Grossman, right, receives congratulations from right fielder Nomar Mazara after scoring in the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park, Saturday, April 3, 2021.
Detroit Tigers left fielder Robbie Grossman, right, receives congratulations from right fielder Nomar Mazara after scoring in the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park, Saturday, April 3, 2021.

Grossman is letting his presence prove why the Tigers signed him to a two-year, $10 million contract this offseason. He is the first player in franchise history to walk eight times in the first three games of the season.

The 31-year-old is the first MLB player since Kevin Maas (1991 New York Yankees) to draw at least eight walks in the first three contests. The last MLB leadoff hitter to accomplish this feat was Eddie Yost in 1951 for the Washington Senators. That year, Yost — who happened to play for the Tigers in 1959 and 1960 — took 151 walks in 152 games.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers' Casey Mize confident in ability to attack with strikes