Auburn, Casey Mize Start SEC Play With A Statment
Auburn righthander Casey Mize last week set a high bar for himself when he threw a no-hitter against Northeastern. He didn’t match that standard Friday when he returned to the mound for No. 13 Auburn in the Southeastern Conference opener against No. 10 Texas A&M, but he turned in another gem of a start.
Mize struck out 13 batters, walked none and held the powerful Aggies’ offense to one run Auburn, Casey Mize Start SEC Play With A Statmenton five hits in 7.1 innings. Auburn (18-1) went on to a 4-1 victory and Mize improved to 5-0, 1.93 with 51 strikeouts and three walks in 32.2 innings.
Coach Butch Thompson said he was pleased with the Tigers’ all-around performance Friday and was especially pleased with how his ace pitched.
“Thirteen strikeouts against not a good offense, but arguably one of the best offenses in America,” Thompson said. “That’s a hat-tipping performance.”
Mize said he may have been sharper a week ago but felt good Friday.
“It was ok,” he said. “There were some pitches I really wasn’t happy with. I made more mistakes this week than last week.”
Mize started the night by striking out the first two batters before Braden Shewmake, his teammate last summer on USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, rapped a two-out single to quickly put to rest any thoughts of a second consecutive no-hitter. But otherwise, Mize was flawless in the early going. Shewmake was one of two batters who did not strike out the first time through the order – the other grounded out to third – and Mize didn’t allow another hit until the fifth inning.
Mize threw his fastball 92-94 mph and touched 96. He showed off his plus split-change and liberally worked in his slider and cutter, both of which are above-average offerings. He threw all four pitches for strikes and was suffocating early in the game, retiring all but two batters the first two times through the order.
Thompson said he thinks the key to Mize’s success the last two weeks has been how well he has thrown his fastball.
“His fastball has played up as well as I’ve seen in three years of coaching him,” Thompson said. “His cutter is rounding into shape. He’s got the staple of what’s always allowed him to grow as a pitcher with that split finger. I just think the last two weeks the fastball’s played so well.”
As a sophomore last year, Mize went 8-2, 2.04 with 109 strikeouts and nine walks in 83.2 innings to earn All-America honors. Though he was this year voted a first-team Preseason All-American by major league scouting directors, he came into the spring with some questions because he missed a few starts last spring with forearm soreness and was then shut down for the summer after making just two starts for Team USA. Mize never required surgery and he’s done his best to quiet any concerns about his durability this spring.
There are still three months until the draft begins, but Mize is loudly making his case to be the first player selected. There was a large scouting presence at Friday’s game and Thompson said he spoke with two general managers in his office before the game.
The highest drafted player in Auburn history is righthander Gregg Olson, who went fourth overall in 1988. Outfielder Gabe Gross, who is in his first season as Auburn’s hitting coach, was the highest pick this century, going 15th overall in 2001.
Mize has a long way to go before he makes program history, but he has clearly made a move up draft boards in the season’s first month. Thanks in part to his efforts on Friday nights, Auburn has also climbed the rankings. Together, they appear to be in for a special spring.
“That’s good for the head coach to see when I can see our team feeling like they have a chance against anyone with Casey Mize on the mound,” Thompson said. “I think it’s a quiet confidence and I think you’ve really to look at the players and really get a feel, but they play with a confident rhythm when Casey’s in control of the ballgame.”