The Detroit Tigers started off the 2022 campaign with a wild win over the visiting Chicago White Sox on Friday afternoon, mounting a late-inning comeback to grab a 5-4 victory after starter Eduardo Rodríguez stumbled out of the gates. While it was certainly a nail-biter for the fans, some clutch hitting — including a two-RBI single for Miguel Cabrera’s hit No. 2,988, as well a deep jack from Eric Haase and a hit off the outfield wall just above the defender’s glove with two outs in the ninth by Javier Baez — was enough for the boys in the Olde English D to prevail.
Plenty of credit also goes to the bullpen, led by Drew “Clutch” Hutchison who stymied the Sox bats with a heavy diet of breaking balls long enough to get the Tigers deep into the late innings without tacking onto the deficit. It was the kind of game that makes one grateful that baseball is back. Hard to ask for a more perfect Opening Day.
Now Detroit looks to clinch the three-game series against their intradivision rivals and jump out to an early lead in the AL Central. They will look to do it behind one of their top draft picks, who has taken a little longer to find his groove than some hoped but has continued to show improvements. Casey Mize will open his 2022 campaign looking to build on a nice first full season in the majors. He’ll face a formidable foe who has historically owned the Tigers, so the Motor City Kitties will need the best their current No. 2 starter has to offer on Saturday when they go toe-to-toe on the mound.
Detroit Tigers (1-0) vs. Chicago White Sox (0-1)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup (2021): RHP Casey Mize (7-9, 3.71 ERA) vs. RHP Dylan Cease (13-7, 3.91 ERA)
Game 4 Pitching Matchup (2021 stats)
Casey Mize — the top pick in the 2018 MLB draft and one of the future faces of the franchise — needs no introduction to Tigers fans. After slow starts in his first two seasons, the 24-year-old is embarking on his third major league campaign in 2022 and looking to build on his modest improvements in 2021.
He has fared fairly well in his five career appearances against the Pale Hose, never giving up more than three earned runs, though he lost all three meetings last year while not figuring in the final decision in his two 2020 matchups. His best performance came on April 29, 2021, when he tossed six innings of three-run ball with six strikeouts and no home runs allowed in the losing effort; his team only put up one run in support.
The Auburn University product utilized a five-pitch arsenal last season that featured a duet of fastballs in a four-seamer (93.9 mph) and a sinker (93.2 mph) that he employed 29.1% and 22.9% of the time, respectively. His slider (85.9 mph) is his most prolific secondary offering at a 28.1% clip, followed up by his splitter (85.8 mph) and his curve (81.3 mph) which he logs in at 13.2% and 6.8%, respectively. This spring, Mize has talked about trimming the sinker, and perhaps mixing in the curve a little more often. He looked good in Grapefruit League action, so we’ll see how he carries it into his first start of the year.
Mize did see improvements in his signature pitch — the splitter — between 2020 and 2021, boosting the drop on it from a paltry -1.4 inches versus the average to a robust 3.6 inches, per Baseball Savant. However, it remains a less dominant weapon than was hoped coming out of college, and he’s emphasized tuning his release and getting the feel for the pitch back this spring.
The splitter had good numbers and hitters didn’t do much with it, but he only threw it a hair over 13 percent of the time and the whiff rate on it wasn’t nearly as good as for his four-seam fastball and slider. Mize rightly leaned into it, going heavily fastball-slider last year, and was solid anyway. Getting the splitter back into hitters’ heads will be key to him taking the next step.
Mize also shelved the cutter last year — which was slightly above average — and stretched it out to a slider that was a versatile weapon for him all year. Hitters whiffed 28.2 percent of the time and they rarely did more than put it play. The expected weighted on-base average against the slider (xwOBA) was a meager .294. The point being, Mize has a good deal more to work with than the splitter, and the combination of better infield defense and more of a four-seam heavy mix could set him up for a really strong season.
Dylan Cease is coming off a very impressive 2021 season that saw him lead the American League in starts and strikeouts per nine innings, helping the ChiSox earn a division title in his third major league season. He’s one of the better young talents in the game. The Pale Hose have lost to the Kitties just once with him on the mound — his final outing of 2021 on October 3 at home in which he tossed four frames of one-run ball while walking two and striking out five; the good guys prevailed anyways, 5-2.
The 26-year-old right-hander piles up those Ks using a traditional power arsenal consisting of a blazing four-seam fastball (96.7 mph), slider (85.9 mph), curveball (79.9 mph) and changeup (78.1 mph) that he employs 46.8%, 30.6%, 15.2% and 7.4%, respectively, per Baseball Savant. Despite the high number of starts, his Achilles heel appears to be his inability to pitch deep into games, managing just 5.2 frames on average per outing. A cursory glance at the stats suggests that his high strikeout rate comes at the price of some efficiency, which puts some stress on the bullpen behind him every time he takes the mound.
Make no mistake, if Cease has his stuff under control, as he did for much of his breakout 2021 season, the Tigers are in for a tough afternoon. Their best bet is to try to get him out of the game as soon as possible. With teams managing their starters’ innings carefully after the shortened spring training, that is doable.
Key Matchup: Top of the order vs. Cease
Detroit’s top three hitters in the batting order reached base nine times in 14 plate appearances against Chicago on Friday, scoring four runs in the process. That same amount of tenacity shown at the plate will need to be replicated against Cease if the good guys are going to have a solid shot at clinching the series, especially given his struggles getting into the waning innings. Count on Miggy creeping another hit closer to his milestone as well.