Tigers takeaways: Roster spot caps rewarding spring for Casey Mize

LAKELAND, Fla. — Casey Mize knew the task at hand. He knew, from the first day of spring, he was going to be locked in competition for a spot in the Detroit Tigers’ rotation. He knew everything would matter, knew everything would be evaluated, understood his game would be picked apart.

“I always had the expectation that I would make it,” Mize said, “just because I expect a lot of myself, a lot is expected of me. As good as it felt to be told I made the team, and as rewarding as it was to have the perspective of everything that’s gone on, it was the expectation.”

Mize tends to keep a levelheaded demeanor, but part of him must have been flowing with emotion Friday after manager A.J. Hinch informed him he had made the roster. Hinch praised the way Mize took the competition to heart.

At the start of camp, no one — Mize included — was sure what to expect. It had been a long time since he had thrown in a game setting. Tommy John surgery and a back procedure were finally in the rearview mirror, but reacclimating to baseball can often be a challenge.

Rather than a slow start, we saw Mize pitch as well as ever and in different ways. His fastball was among the talks of camp. His command and secondary stuff improved as the spring went along.

After learning the news, Mize told his family and also thanked some of the trainers and support staff who helped him through his injury rehab.

“I felt like I was at a point where, either way, I knew I did what I could have done,” Mize said. “Would I have been disappointed if it didn’t go this way? Of course. But I think I would have had a little more peace with it because I know I put my best foot forward, (had) great focus, great intent, great competitiveness and pretty good results. So, I feel like I did what I could, and luckily, I came out on the roster.”

Despite all the missed time, Mize isn’t expected to begin the season on any strict pitch count or under any restrictive innings limitations. His body and performance will dictate his workload.

“My body feels good, recovering well, and we need to win,” Mize said. “So there’s no, ‘OK, Casey, we’re gonna run you out there for three innings.’ No, we need to win. So I’m gonna go out and do my thing, and when they tell me I’m done, I’m gonna be done.”

Anxiety eased for Olson

There’s a thin line between joy and pain in the final days of spring training. One day after learning he was being optioned to the minor leagues, Matt Manning’s locker was cleared out of the big-league clubhouse, his nameplate removed. Conversely, Reese Olson later stood outside the clubhouse talking to reporters about how he got news of making the team.

Hinch called Olson into his office and asked, “How’s your anxiety level?”

“Pretty high,” Olson told him.

That’s when Hinch told Olson he would be on the roster. Olson’s roster spot came as a deserving reward after he endured long spring trips to face powerful lineups against the New York Mets in Port St. Lucie, the Atlanta Braves in North Port and the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers.

“One of the big things coming in was first-pitch strikes,” Olson said. “I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that this spring. And then just commanding the ball, all five shapes. Everything feels pretty solid right now. My mechanics feel really good. Pretty dialed in.”

The last battle

The lone competition remaining in camp centers on the bullpen, where Alex Faedo, Joey Wentz, Beau Brieske and Miguel Díaz are fighting for two spots.

Saturday, Faedo was stretched to 41 pitches as he threw 2 1/3 innings and registered three strikeouts. It was another solid performance in a spring full of them. Anchored by a biting slider and improved changeup, Faedo has struck out 17 batters in 13 1/3 innings.

“I feel like I’ve always been a guy that fills up the zone,” Faedo said. “I feel like I’m just not fighting my body. My body is healthy. I’m moving good. … I feel really good about where I’m going right now.”

Though Díaz seems the likely odd man out, Faedo and Brieske — who has not allowed a run in 11 2/3 innings — have made compelling cases.

The situation gets more complicated when you factor in Wentz, who has at times pitched well and displayed a much-improved fastball. Saturday, though, Wentz surrendered a home run and issued a walk in a labor-intensive 46-pitch outing. Wentz has allowed only five hits in his past four games, but four were homers.

The fact Wentz is out of options could still convince the Tigers to keep him on the major-league roster over Faedo or Brieske. The idea of trading him to another team before Opening Day, if there is a willing taker, also seems like an appealing idea.

Torkelson accelerating toward the season?

Spencer Torkelson hit a triple that left the bat at 107.8 mph Saturday against the Yankees. (Mike Watters / USA Today)

Let’s be honest: It has been another difficult spring for Spencer Torkelson. Coming off a 31-homer season, the first baseman is hitting only .156 through 41 at-bats.

Despite the struggles, neither Torkelson nor the Tigers’ staff ever grew worried. It was good, then, to see Torkelson make some loud contact Saturday against the New York Yankees. He went 3-for-4 and drove a 107.8 mph triple to center field, a ball listed as traveling 424 feet even though the wall in center is listed at 420.

After the game, Torkelson said he has felt comfortable and confident all spring. Might he be finding his rhythm at the plate just at the right time?

“I’m still learning myself through spring trainings of what I need to focus on to get right as fast as possible,” Torkelson said. “I guess it’d probably be timing because the approach was always there. The confidence never left.”

Meadows doing it all

You could argue no position player has been more entertaining this spring than Parker Meadows. We have seen the varying aspects of his game on display: defense in center field, speed on the bases, power at the plate.

Saturday, he began with a single, then stole second and advanced to third on a bad throw. Later, he homered for the fourth time this spring.

It was another strong showing from Meadows, who registered the Tigers’ only hit Friday against Philadelphia Phillies ace Zack Wheeler when he dropped down a perfect bunt single. The Tigers want Meadows to incorporate bunting for hits more often, particularly as a way of remaining viable against left-handed pitching.

“It can be a double in the span of two pitches,” Hinch said. “He can be an electrifying base runner. He already is. He puts a lot of pressure on them when he gets on first base.”

(Top photo: Mike Watters / USA Today)

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