Casey Mize loves a challenge. He also embraces rising to the occasion.
MLB.com's No. 6 overall prospect extended his scoreless streak to 20 innings on Friday, scattering six hits over six frames, as Double-A Erie downed Akron, 4-1, at UPMC Park. He struck out five and walked two.
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Four of the first seven RubberDucks reached base against Mize, who managed to lower his ERA to an Eastern League-leading 1.21 through seven starts.
After Indians No. 15 prospect Ernie Clement popped up the first pitch of the game, Mize walked Ka'ai Tom on four pitches. The seesaw fell back to the right-hander's side with a four-pitch strikeout of Connor Marabell, but Wilson Garcia singled to right field to put runners at the corners. The top pick in last year's Draft buckled down to get Nellie Rodriguez on a liner to left on his 13th pitch of the inning.
"You've just got to make quality pitches," Mize said. "You've just got to slow the game down, make some quality pitches.
"That was, honestly, the storyline for most of the game. I worked out of a few jams and really didn't have an easy inning."
Akron made more noise in the second. Back-to-back singles by Li-Jen Chu and Alex Call and a sacrifice had two runners in scoring position with one out. Again, the top Tigers prospect escaped, retiring Jorma Rodriguez on an infield popup and Clement on a line drive to second base.
Mize (5-0) retired nine of the next 11 batters as Erie pushed across two runs in the fourth inning and one in the fifth.
"Defense played really well behind me," he said. "They definitely had my back out there when I put runners on base."
Akron kept up the pressure in the sixth. Garcia hit a leadoff double, Mize plunked Chu and Call singled to load the bases with one out. Three pitches later, capped by an around-the-horn double play, the right-hander was back in the dugout with the shutout streak intact. He threw 50 of 86 pitches for strikes.
The Auburn product was promoted to Double-A on April 25 after four starts with Class A Advanced Lakeland, where he had a 0.35 ERA over 26 innings. Mize spun a no-hitter in his Erie debut on April 29 and has yielded seven runs -- six earned -- in 44 2/3 innings with the SeaWolves.
Recent success for the Alabama native has been rooted in "throwing the off-speed stuff for strikes."
"If I get behind in the count, just being able to throw off-speed stuff in hitters' counts is what I live and die by," he said. "The ability to do that and, like I said, good defense has been a huge part of that, so a combination of those things.
2019 MiLB include
"Just being challenged is something that needs to happen often … well, not too often, but there are going to be certain times when I'm going to have a lot of runners on base with nobody out or one out and I'm gonna have to work out of jams. The more comfortable I get in those situations, I think, can only be positive for the future."
Will Vest pitched the final two innings for his third save, despite giving up a leadoff homer to Call in the ninth.
Kade Scivicque went 3-for-4 with a two-run single for the SeaWolves, while Luke Burch chipped in two hits, including an RBI double.
Akron starter and Indians No. 10 prospect Sam Hentges (1-7) allowed three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out eight in 5 1/3 innings.