Back in his collegiate days, Auburn head coach Butch Thompson had a phrase for how Casey Mize flew through outings like his fourth start of the season on Tuesday.
"Autopilot," Mize said. "When you're having success on the field, whether it's pitching or even hitting and everything feels like it's working, it feels like autopilot. Everything just clicks into place, and that's what it felt like today in those middle innings."
The Tigers' top prospect allowed just one hit and struck out four over a career-high eight scoreless innings, leading Class A Advanced Lakeland to a 4-1 win over St. Lucie at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium. He didn't allow a walk and threw 89 pitches, 62 of them for strikes.
The eight-inning gem beat out his seven-inning outing on April 17 against Palm Beach for the longest outing of his young career, and he hasn't allowed a run in 19 innings dating back to April 9.
Gameday box score
Unlike some of his previous starts for the Flying Tigers, last year's top overall Draft pick relied heavily on the ground game, getting 13 groundouts, three flyouts and four outs via the K -- his lowest strikeout total this season. The 21-year-old right-hander said his arsenal, which contains two plus pitches in his fastball and slider and a plus-plus offering in his splitter, wasn't quite as sharp Tuesday, even if the results told another story. Impressive control and command makes the difference, even when all of his offerings aren't clicking.
"It just came down to pounding the strike zone earlier in the count," he said. "I threw a lot of off-speed early on the first or second pitch, just to keep them guessing and off-balance, and that seemed to get them to pound the ball into the ground. ... We used the shift a lot, and the infielders were in the right place for a ton of those plays, so I was thankful for them and our staff for being in the right positions to get so many outs behind me."
That shift came back to bite Mize on his lone hit of the day. Lakeland lined up its infield heavy on the right side against left-handed batter Carlos Cortes with one out in the second, and the St. Lucie second baseman responded by laying a perfect bunt down the third-base line for an infield single. Mize responded by retiring the next 20 Mets batters he faced. His high for pitches thrown in an inning Tuesday was 14 in the second frame, and he needed only six to get through the fourth and eight to get through the seventh.
"At the time, it frustrated me," Mize said of the bunt single. "But looking back after all that happened after that, we kept shifting, and it worked really well. There were definitely some balls that might have gotten through if guys hadn't been in the right place, so I'll take it."
Mize now owns a 0.35 ERA with 25 strikeouts and only one free pass over four starts (26 innings). Today's start marked just the third eight-inning outing completed by a Class A Advanced starter in the season's first month. In fact, he has two of the nine starts lasting seven innings or more in the Florida State League this season. His 26 innings are second-most in the Minors behind only Tommy Parsons' 30 for Class A Peoria, and his 0.31 WHIP is the lowest of any Minor League qualifier.
It may not look like Mize is being challenged in the FSL, but the former Auburn star admits he's still getting used to the rigors of pro ball.
"It's just the challenge of being on the mound every fifth day with the ability to have a full start, that's something I'm still getting used to," Mize said. "I got a taste of that last year here [with Lakeland], but now I'm doing it with a full workload. I prepared this whole offseason to get ready for that, but then you still have to face batters and the hitters here are really good. There's talent all around this league. But the biggest thing for me is being there every fifth day, and I think I'm showing I'm adapting to it well."
2019 MiLB include
The Tigers said before the season that Mize would likely remain in Lakeland until they could guarantee good weather up north with Double-A Erie in the Eastern League, to ensure he would make regular starts. That hasn't stopped Tigers fans from asking when MLB.com's No. 16 overall prospect will make the jump.
Mize's mindset is simply to keep dominating, keep putting up zeros, keep things on auto pilot. But for the record, the high temperature in Erie, Pennsylvania on Tuesday was a pleasant 65 degrees.
"It really doesn't matter to me where I'm pitching, so long as I'm able to get outs," Mize said. "After a strikeout, I'm not thinking, 'Ooh, they've got to be impressed with that.' It's not really how I work. I'm not going to be worried about this destination or that one. I'm just focused on getting outs."