Casey Mize keeps inching closer to Detroit Tigers' starting rotation

Anthony Fenech
Detroit Free Press

Casey Mize was back out there again Tuesday morning, walking from the visitor’s dugout to the Detroit Tigers' bullpen for another audition.

And again, the young right-hander showed he's ready for the next challenge.

In three innings of live batting practice, Mize built off Thursday's dominant intrasquad outing and again presented the idea of an early call-up.

Detroit Tigers pitcher Casey Mize throws during summer camp at Comerica Park in Detroit, Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

“Yeah,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I’d like to have him — right now.

“But we know the protocol, we know what we’re trying to do here and step-by-step, but I just think he’s very poised and he knows what he needs to do and wants to do. It’s fun watching him, pitch, he’s in control, and like I said, he’s got a great plan on what he needs to be successful.

“So, he’s moving really quick and for me, it can’t be quick enough. I like him a lot.”

So do the Tigers. This much we can surmise given what the team is saying about him. Gardenhire — a veteran manager who knows what to say, when to say it and how to say it — said a lot Tuesday in few words.

And while, “I’d like to have him — right now,” certainly plays to his friendly nature, it’s not likely that he’s playing: Mize is one of the franchise's best five starting pitchers right now.

However, the Tigers will not be reckless with calling him up. He won’t be on the Opening Day roster, not even with an open spot because of Daniel Norris being placed on the injured list.

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But given the nature of this season’s 60-game schedule, the Tigers might only need to wait a turn or two through the starting rotation to move Mize in without losing an entire year of service time.

As it stands, Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, Jordan Zimmermann and Ivan Nova are penciled into the Opening Day starting rotation. The final spot appears to be a three-way battle between Michael Fulmer, Tyler Alexander and Shao-Ching Chiang.

Fulmer was shaky early Monday morning, in his second outing in a semi-competitive situation since having Tommy John surgery. It’s not that he’s not ready to return, but it might be easier to get him back up to speed in a more controlled environment in the bullpen.

Detroit Tigers catcher Brady Policelli fist bumps pitcher Casey Mize during summer camp at Comerica Park in Detroit, Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

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As Gardenhire noted, perhaps the Tigers could deploy Fulmer as either an "opener" or a "bulk guy" — either a pitcher to start the first innings or pitch the middle portion. That points to the idea of piggy-backing Fulmer with Alexander, who might have the inside track to start between the two.

Gardenhire has been vocal about rewarding players who paid dividends last season — yes, even in a 114-loss season — and Alexander helped out in 2019 and has been solid this summer. He’s also young enough to still have upside.

The Tigers also have been impressed with Chiang, but he’s a non-roster guy and still looks like more of a long reliever.

[A look at the Tigers' bullpen race: Who's in, who's out]

As for Mize, he is pitching for a spot that he can’t yet fill, and one that isn’t even open. Though that could change. Because remember: Along with the competition for the final rotation spot, Zimmermann is entering the final year of his contract. And he will not be afforded the long leash of years past.

It won’t be next week, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Mize soon this season.

Contact Anthony Fenech at Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.