Detroit Tigers prospect Casey Mize makes MLB starting rotation; Michael Fulmer to bullpen
LAKELAND, Fla. — Detroit Tigers right-hander Casey Mize is coming back to the major leagues, manager AJ Hinch announced Friday. Right-hander Michael Fulmer will make the team and pitch out of the bullpen.
Also, left-hander Derek Holland is going to make the roster as a reliever. He came to camp as a non-roster invitee, so a spot on the 40-man roster will need to be cleared for him.
Mize showcased why he deserved a spot on the Opening Day squad against the Toronto Blue Jays at TD Ballpark on Thursday.
He finished his four innings with five hits, two earned runs, no walks and nine strikeouts across four frames. He used 72 pitches, generating 55 strikes. And he got strikeouts for nine of his first 10 outs. Newly cemented backup catcher Grayson Greiner caught him.
"The race to two strikes," Hinch said Friday about what he liked from Mize's performance. "We've got to get this guy to thrower and then pitch to expand when you have leverage, not the other way around. ... His strike-throwing dominance last night was a very good indicator that he's trending in the right direction."
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Thursday's performance was a welcomed sight. Mize battled his command during his big-league debut last season — 13 walks to 26 strikeouts, accompanied by a 6.99 ERA in seven starts. His struggles translated into early spring training games.
Entering Thursday, Mize produced 10 walks and 12 strikeouts, with a 9.90 ERA. But on Thursday, in the biggest moment of his spring, he didn't allow a walk and flexed his repertoire with a whopping nine strikeouts.
"We think Mize has continued to pitch better than his numbers indicated in the spring," Hinch said. "Last night, he proved to himself more than he needed to prove to us that working in the strike zone is much more advantageous than dancing around the strike zone. (Last night) factored in a little bit, but I wouldn't say a lot."
He gave up three consecutive hits — scoring two runs — to open the fourth inning but came back with a three-pitch strikeout. After the next batter reached on an error by left fielder JaCoby Jones, Mize worked out of a one-out jam with two runners in scoring position. He did not allow further damage.
He joins Matthew Boyd (Opening Day starter), Julio Teheran, Tarik Skubal and Jose Urena to complete the five-man rotation. Here's how Hinch expects the order of the rotation to shake out for the first five games: Boyd (April 1), Teheran (April 3), Skubal (April 4), Urena (April 5) and Mize (April 6).
"I kind of hold the right to change that as I look a little closer (at the early opponents)," Hinch said. "But we've lined it up this way, and it's likely how we're going into the season."
After a couple of weeks, the Tigers are expected to move to a six-man rotation. At some point, right-hander Spencer Turnbull will rejoin the Tigers. He is on the non-baseball-related (COVID-19) injured list.
Mize is lined up to pitch the Tigers' spring training finale Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays in Lakeland.
And then, the former No. 1 overall pick is headed to Detroit.
What about Derek Holland, Michael Fulmer?
Holland, a 12-year MLB veteran, has tossed eight scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts and one walk this spring. His fastball hovered around the mid-90s. He pitched his way into the bullpen, and with his past as a starter, Hinch considers him a versatile option.
"Kind of out-pitched everybody that he was in competition with," Hinch said. "Coming in, he had to prove his way onto our 26-man (roster). I think he can be a short-reliever, I think he can be a long-reliever, even though I hate that term. He can provide a lot of different innings for us."
As for Fulmer, Hinch said there was never a doubt he would make the roster. But he was impressed with the 28-year-old's work out of the bullpen Thursday. He fired four innings of one-run ball, allowing three hits and one walk. He got seven strikeouts, 10 swings-and-misses with his slider, and his sinker averaged 93.9 mph.
"I think we found something with him pitching with conviction out of the 'pen," Hinch said. "I don't think days starting are over. He's likely to start games for us at some point. But I’m not necessarily gonna wait for three-or four-inning stints to pitch him out of the 'pen."
Finally, Hinch announced he won't name a closer leading up to the first series of the season against the Cleveland Indians: "I want to win the first game. If it has a save opportunity, I'll have somebody close the game."
On Friday, the Tigers sent outfielder Daz Cameron to Triple-A Toledo. He entered spring training recovering from an elbow injury sustained in the Puerto Rican Winter League this offseason. With a logjam in the outfield, it's unclear when he might return to the majors.
Hinch plans to get Cameron work at the alternate training site, and during the Triple-A season, at center field to develop a secondary position beyond right field.
After Friday's game, the team also granted the unconditional release of infielder Greg Garcia, who was trying to make the team as a utility man.