Former No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize has made the Tigers’ Opening Day rotation, manager A.J. Hinch announced this morning (Twitter links via Evan Woodbery of MLive.com). Hinch also revealed that former AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer will begin the season in the bullpen, where he’ll be joined by veteran lefty Derek Holland — a non-roster invitee to camp who has made the Opening Day squad. Detroit will need to make a corresponding 40-man roster move once Holland’s contract is formally selected, though that has not yet occurred.
Mize, 23, didn’t have a great spring but was sharper in his most recent outing, holding the Blue Jays to a pair of runs on five hits and no walks with nine strikeouts through four innings. Overall, he’s been tagged for 13 runs in 14 frames during Grapefruit League play, but he’s also punched out an impressive 21 hitters in that time.
Mize made his big league debut in 2020 and looked sharp at times but generally struggled to work deep into games. He held opponents to a tepid .228/.302/.358 batting line the first time through the order but saw those numbers leap to .235/.361/.510 upon turning a lineup over for the second time. It was a small sample, just seven starts, and Mize certainly has the pedigree to pitch at or near the top of a big league rotation. In addition to a strong NCAA track record, the former Auburn ace carries a 2.71 ERA, a 24.8 percent strikeout rate and a tiny 5.4 percent walk rate through 123 minor league innings. He skipped Triple-A entirely due to the canceled minor league season in 2020, but he’ll be given the opportunity to prove to the Tigers that he needn’t ever throw a pitch with their Toledo affiliate.
Mize joins Matthew Boyd, Jose Urena, Julio Teheran and Tarik Skubal in a rotation that looks quite different than it did early in the 2020 season. Righty Spencer Turnbull figures to eventually join the mix in some capacity, but he’s been in Covid-19 protocol since early this week.
Fulmer, too, could eventually work his way back into the rotation picture. The righty has undergone a pair of arm surgeries — ulnar nerve transposition and Tommy John — since being named AL Rookie of the Year back in 2016. He struggled mightily this spring, but Hinch gave him a vote of confidence Friday, calling Fulmer a “big league pitcher” (via Woodbery) and noting that optioning him to Triple-A was not a consideration. He’ll work in a multi-inning role, so he could perhaps slide into the rotation when injuries and/or struggles from the other starters necessitate. The Tigers still control Fulmer through the 2022 season.
As for Holland, he’ll give Hinch a third lefty alongside Gregory Soto and Daniel Norris. The 34-year-old has overwhelmingly earned his roster spot this spring, rattling off eight scoreless innings while allowing just five hits and a walk against 13 strikeouts. Holland has struggled with the Pirates, Giants and Cubs across the past two seasons, but he turned in 171 1/3 innings of 3.57 ERA ball for San Francisco as recently as 2018. He’s worked mostly as a starter in his 12-year big league career but has come out of the bullpen 80 times at the MLB level, so a relief role is hardly unfamiliar territory for him.