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Detroit Tigers right-hander Casey Mize, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, returned to the mound for the first time in 22 months Tuesday. Mize missed most of 2022 and all of 2023 with Tommy John surgery and also a back surgery. His spring debut Tuesday was his first appearance in a game of any kind since May 12, 2022.

It's early in spring training, so Mize's outing was brief: 35 pitches across 1 2/3 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays (DET 6, TOR 4). Mize allowed two runs in the first inning and got "rolled," meaning a reliever had to finish the inning before Mize came back out for the second. He went 1-2-3 on 12 pitches in the second inning to end his afternoon.

Casey Mize
DET • SP • #12
Feb. 27 vs. TOR
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Statcast says Mize averaged 95.7 mph and topped out at 97.3 mph with his fastball Tuesday. That is comfortably above the 94.2 mph he averaged with his fastball in 2021, his last healthy season. It's not uncommon for pitchers to return from Tommy John surgery with more velocity, though it could also be adrenaline given how long Mize had been waiting to return to game action.

"It's rewarding. I was super happy to be back out there," Mize told the Detroit Free Press after Tuesday's outing. "I don't know if I'd call it a big game from a competitive standpoint, but to me, it was obviously important. It feels good."

Mize, 26, has a career 4.29 ERA in 188 2/3 innings in parts of three MLB seasons. He made 30 starts with the Tigers in 2021 and looked like a budding ace, throwing 150 1/3 innings with a 3.71 ERA. An elbow sprain sent Mize to the injured list after two starts in April 2022, and he hurt his elbow further in his first Triple-A rehab that May. Mize had Tommy John surgery soon thereafter.

As things stand, Mize is not assured a rotation spot on Opening Day. The Tigers have five healthy starters for five rotation spots -- Jack Flaherty, Kenta Maeda, Matt Manning, Reese Olson, Tarik Skubal -- and Mize could be brought along slowly after two surgeries and a lengthy rehab. A slow build up and an assignment to Triple-A may be in the cards.

Mize and the Tigers avoided an arbitration hearing over a $25,000 difference a few weeks ago. He received a one-year contract worth $840,000. It includes a $3.1 million club option for 2025. If the Tigers decline the option, Mize will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player. The option just gives the Tigers cost certainty in the event Mize breaks out.

The Tigers went 78-84 last season, a 12-win improvement from 2022. The AL Central is hardly a powerhouse division. Detroit could very well be in the division race this year if young players like Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson (and Mize) take steps forward, and veteran additions like Flaherty, Maeda, and Mark Canha provide solid production.