Why Detroit Tigers rookie Casey Mize doesn't feel pressure of playoff push

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers right-hander Casey Mize isn't afraid of high-intensity situations on the mound.

Throughout his Auburn career, he pitched in SEC tournaments, NCAA tournaments and became the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft. In the minor leagues, he was expected dominate in each outing — especially after throwing a no-hitter in his Double-A debut — and quickly march through the organization's system.

He is hungry for more at the big-league level.

And with the Tigers (17-19) needing a significant push with 24 games remaining to grab a spot in the postseason, Mize has an opportunity to deliver.

"I'm not feeling a ton of pressure or nerves," Mize said. "I really haven't felt that throughout all of this. I do get excited and anxious to go out there to compete every week because that's my job, and it's only every five days, so I'm really looking forward to it. But I don't think it's felt like too much. I feel very mentally and physically prepared each time I go out there, and I can't wait to go back out there again."

For subscribers: Mize’s rough day shouldn't worry you. This Tigers great struggled early, too

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Casey Mize pitches during the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park, Aug. 30, 2020.

However, Mize hasn't entirely done so through three MLB starts, with a 6.75 ERA, 1.688 WHIP, 13 strikeouts and four walks in 10⅓ innings. In his last two outings, he hasn't even made it through the fourth frame. He is only a rookie, so immediate greatness is probably unrealistic — but that is his personal goal.

Since his Aug. 30 start against the Minnesota Twins, the 23-year-old has put an emphasis on his pitch selection. Mize said thinks the MLB strike zone is smaller than what he dealt with in Double-A Erie in 2019, though he won't use that as an excuse for his command issues in that game.

[ Tigers' Casey Mize knows why he's struggling. But he's still figuring out a fix ]

"I just got to command the ball and execute," Mize said, "and then, you know, I can fill up the strike zone."

He will face the Twins again Sunday, but this time with a lineup featuring third baseman Josh Donaldson, who was reinstated Wednesday from the 10-day injured list (right calf strain).

Donaldson, like Mize, played his college ball at Auburn.

"Obviously, a power bat in their lineup, really talented hitter," Mize said about Donaldson, the 2015 AL MVP. "A guy that really dives into the science side of hitting. Experienced guy. I'm really looking forward to that matchup."

[ Jordan Zimmermann's mind has helped Matthew Boyd. Can his arm help the Tigers? ]

'Another hurdle' for Ramirez

Left-handed reliever Nick Ramirez pitched 46 games for the Tigers in 2019, posting a 4.07 ERA, 74 strikeouts and 35 walks in 79⅔ innings. He only gave up one run in seven innings through spring training, and he excelled in summer camp.

Ramirez, who is not on the 40-man roster, didn't make the active roster when the squad was finalized July 23 — there were 16 pitchers chosen ahead of him. His last major-league appearance came on Sept. 24, 2019, but he remains determined to succeed in the long-term.

[ Nick Ramirez has new motivation, and he weighs 7 pounds, 7 ounces ]

"It's definitely tough," Ramirez said Saturday, as a member of the traveling taxi squad for the Tigers series in Minneapolis. "I don't think it's ideal whatsoever. It's just one more of those hurdles in my career where I've really had to earn everything. It is disappointing, but at the same time, I'm doing everything and anything I can to get back here. We'll see what happens."

Pitchers and catchers reported for the first day of summer training camp Friday, July 3, 2020. Detroit Tigers pitcher Nick Ramirez walks to the bullpen at Comerica Park.

After spending much of the shortened 60-game season at the alternate training site in Toledo, Ramirez recently joined the Tigers' traveling party in case of an emergency. That doesn't mean he is guaranteed to play.

Nor does it mean he will get discouraged.

He continues to prepare at Fifth Third Field for whatever surprise opportunity may come his way. Ramirez, a first baseman when he has drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011, jokingly said he has asked to take swings.

"I've been throwing plenty," Ramirez said. "They've done a good job in Toledo on keeping guys fresh and throwing and building up pitches, and staying kind of at that level. Body feels great, arm feels great, stuff feels great, especially with the movement and location. It's very consistent."

He was converted into a pitcher by the Brewers in 2017 and signed with the Tigers before the 2019 season. In nearly 2,400 minor-league at-bats, Ramirez had a .242 average with 96 homers and 403 RBIs. 

Before traveling to Minneapolis, he went to Miller Park in Milwaukee on the taxi squad for the Tigers' two-game set against the Brewers. He said he wishes he could've played against his former organization, where he had many close friends — including shortstop Orlando Arcia.

"There's two or three guys there that were in my wedding," Ramirez said. "So it was fun seeing those guys, especially on a big-league field for once."

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here's how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content