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Mize Cruises Though Rain In Final Pre-Draft Start

The conditions for Casey Mize’s final start before the 2018 draft were less than ideal.

The skies opened up moments before Saturday night’s Auburn-Army game, bringing a steady rain that varied from a light sprinkle to a near downpour for most of the first three innings of the game.

In such conditions, simply gripping the ball wasn’t always easy. Two of Mize’s pitches in the first two innings simply slipped out of his hand, sailing wide.

So Mize decided to mainly stick with his fastball. It was easier to grip and command in the wet conditions. Fortuitously, it also may have helped him get back on track.

Mize struck out 11 while allowing four hits and two walks and one run on a solo home run  in seven innings as Auburn easily beat Army 12-1 in the fourth game of the Raleigh Regional. The 2-0 Tigers will now await the winner of Sunday’s 2 p.m. Army-N.C. State game. Auburn can advance to the Super Regional with one win in two tries against the Army-N.C. State winner.

By sticking with his 91-95 mph fastball, Mize largely dominated. In recent weeks, he’s struggled by his standards, and scouts who had seen him wondered if he wasn’t using his fastball enough.

Mize, who calls his own game in conjunction with Auburn catcher Brett Wright, had been heavily reliant on his cutter, slider and split-change. All three can be devastating weapons at their best, but they all work best when hitters are first worried about Mize’s hard, well-located fastball.

“I think he did have a tough time getting a grip. I asked him it it was the ball or the landing. He told me it was the ball,” Auburn coach Butch Thompson said. “You learn something every time you go out for a start. I thought Casey got better and better in a rhythm. I like that the weather forced him to throw his fastball.”

On Saturday, by Baseball America’s count, Mize got 12 swings and misses with his fastball, compared to seven swings and misses on his secondary offerings. The lone run he gave up came on a cutter that didn’t cut enough. His split-change was still hard to hit, and his slider was tight, hard and late-breaking at its best, but Mize did his best work with the heater.

It’s Mize’s ability to locate plus stuff with plus-plus control that makes him the likely first pick in Monday’s draft. On Saturday, 78 percent of his fastballs were thrown for strikes. He found the zone with 70 percent of his secondary offerings. Overall, Mize threw 72 strikes in 95 pitches (76 percent strike percentage).

Casey Mize (Quinn Harris Getty) 1267237819

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“Mize was as advertised. He’s a special, special player . . . He reminded me of Justin Verlander when he was at Old Dominion and we faced him,” Army coach JIm Foster said.

Mize’s delivery is not one scouts would prescribe for a pitcher. There’s some effort and his finish involves some head movement, not enough to call it a true head whack, but also not one that could be described as low-effort.

When scouts worry about deliveries, there are two things they worry about. One is that a delivery may make a pitcher more prone to injury. That’s part science, part theory, and it's hard for anyone outside of a few biomechanical experts to determine.

But the other worry about an effortful delivery is that it will keep a pitcher from having the control and command they need to succeed. And on that measure, Mize’s delivery is no problem at all. He repeats his delivery and finds the zone pitch after pitch.

That control will likely make Mize the first name called on Monday night. It also gives Auburn a chance to be back home for a team draft party. The Tigers have used Burns and Mize already, but they will have No. 3 starter Andrew Mitchell and a rested bullpen ready to go on Sunday, while they know whoever they face will likely be pitching with a taxed staff.

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