It remains a bit of a mystery how they’re managing this—thanks Eric Haase—but your Detroit Tigers continue to play respectable baseball. Obviously the starting pitching has been the biggest contributing factor, and that is going to be tested with Spencer Turnbull out and Jose Ureña just returned from an injured list stint of his own. Fortunately, the Tigers rookies have been up to the task.
Just a month ago, we were wondering how Casey Mize was going to pull out of his tailspin. After a rapid ascent through the minors, the young right-hander was handled quite roughly in his 2020 debut, and that continued through much of spring training and the month of April. Mize finally started turning the tide on May 5th in Boston, and went five straight outings allowing two runs or less. That got his ERA back in good shape, and while his last start in Chicago in the White Sox featured solo home runs against him, Mize still pitched a good game.
Overall, Mize now holds a 3.34 ERA on the year, but his FIP remains high, at 4.72. That’s largely a function of a pretty low strikeout rate, and the impact of the three home runs last time out. This early in the season however, the common interpretation that his FIP is the better predictor of his future production doesn’t hold up.
His strikeout rate has been on the upswing, and based on his trajectory we probably don’t need to worry too much about it. Mize has adapted to largely pitching with his fastball and slider, and is still getting it done. On days when he really has his somewhat fickle splitter going we should see more whiffs, and over time he should learn to do a little better job putting hitters away. Mistakes while ahead or even in the count have still accounted for much of the damage against him. Fortunately, he’s been ahead in counts so much that even when he fails to collect the strikeout, the contact has largely been of the weak variety.
Detroit Tigers (25-35) vs. Seattle Mariners (30-32)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Lookout Landing
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Casey Mize (3-4, 3.34 ERA) vs. RHP Chris Flexen (5-3, 4.70 ERA)
Game 61 Pitching Matchup
Mize’s opposition tonight will be 26-year-old Chris Flexen. The right-hander was drafted out of high school in the 14th round by the New York Mets way back in 2012. That’s an unusual spot to land a prep pitcher, and Flexen was a raw pitching prospect in those days. It took five years until he made his major league debut, and he hasn’t been able to establish himself through 21 major league starts. Last season, he played in the KBO, where he had modest success, and then signed a two-year deal with the Mariners in the offseason.
Flexen has pretty pedestrian stuff, showing a four pitch mix from a high arm slot that gives him some deception. His fourseamer features pretty good riding action at 92-93 mph, and he mixes that with an 89 mph cutter—variously classified as a slider by some—and modest doses of a curveball and changeup. He throws a lot of first pitch strikes and usually keeps the ball on the ground, but this is a profile that screams fifth starter.
Despite some struggles with control in his major league looks, throughout his minor league career and KBO stint Flexen has done a good job limiting the walks. However, he can be hit hard, and with so many balls in play, he leans on his defense quite a bit to get him through. The Tigers’ offense is no juggernaut, but they have a good chance to beat up on the Mariners a bit tonight, and give Mize solid run support to work with.
Key Matchup: Casey Mize vs. Casey Mize
This should be Mize’s game to win or lose, but of course this is baseball after all. Anything can and sometimes does, happen. Still, it’s hard to imagine Flexen dominating even a mediocre lineup like the Tigers, especially outside of T-Mobile Park. The Mariners have a lot of young hitting talent on the way, but with Royce Lewis injured and Jarred Kelenic, Jesus Rodriguez, and Evan White not quite ready to make an impact, Mitch Haniger and Kyle Seager are really the only high quality, established hitters in the lineup. Look for Mize to seize the reins here and lead the Tigers to a series victory with a win tonight.