Detroit Tigers’ young pitchers create excitement but still suffer through growing pains


AP Baseball Writer

DETROIT — Shortly after his final start of the season, Casey Mize sounded ready to get right back to work.

“I’m going to be really motivated to get a lot better,” the Detroit right-hander said.

Mize’s arrival — along with that of fellow pitching prospect Tarik Skubal — was a significant moment for the Tigers during this shortened season, but if Detroit fans expected an immediate impact, they may have been disappointed. Mize went 0-3 with a 6.99 ERA, and Skubal was 1-4 with a 5.63 ERA.

After 114 losses in 2019, the Tigers improved enough to move into contention for a spot in this year’s expanded postseason, but then a late collapse left them at 23-35. Only two major league teams finished behind Detroit.

Mize, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, showed some of his potential in a September start when he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the Chicago White Sox, but he mostly struggled through his seven starts. Neither Mize nor Skubal had pitched above Double-A before this year, and because of the coronavirus pandemic, they didn’t have a chance to get a few starts under their belt in Triple-A in 2020.

“I’m not lost. I feel like I have the stuff to be here,” Mize said. “It’s execution, command, sequencing — all that stuff. It’s really tough to execute when you can’t command, and really tough to sequence when you can’t execute.”

Detroit’s offense improved a bit after a dreadful 2019, but the Tigers finished last in the majors in ERA, so the development of their young pitchers is crucial.

First, Detroit will need to hire a new manager after Ron Gardenhire retired late this season. Lloyd McClendon took over on an interim basis for the final few games.

“The rebuild is almost over with,” McClendon said. “Now it’s time to start winning ballgames and start playing the game the way you want to play it.”

After all the talk about the pitchers, the most impressive rookie for the Tigers this year was shortstop Willi Castro, who hit .349 with a .932 OPS.

At age 26 and with over 300 major league games played, Jeimer Candelario shouldn’t really be considered a prospect, but he did take a big step forward this year, hitting .297 and finishing second on the team to Miguel Cabrera in RBIs. Cabrera hit 10 home runs this year after hitting only 12 in a normal-length season in 2019. He also was healthy enough to play almost every game, but his .746 OPS was almost exactly the same as the previous season.