Auburn, Ala.--Coming off a true freshman season when he led the team in earned run average at 3.52 even though he was just 2-5 overall with one save, sophomore Casey Mize is focused on bigger and better things heading into 2017 for the Auburn baseball Tigers.
Scheduled to be be the starting pitcher for the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against George Washington University, the 6-3, 208 right-hander said for him year two is all about knowing what to expect when he takes the mound for the Tigers.
“It's night and day really,” Mize said. “I was confident last year. I've been confident all my life, but this year it's more an understanding of what to expect and understand it's going to be a long season and there's going to be some ups and downs and everywhere around it.
“I feel like I've prepared myself more and that's a confidence thing, knowing how hard everybody has prepared. There's a confidence that goes with that. I'm very excited. I'm really looking forward to it because I know everybody has worked so hard and we're ready to go out and play.”
While Mize is excited about taking the mound for Tigers and showing how much he’s progressed, Coach Butch Thompson has seen that already out of his talented sophomore.
With a fastball that can reach into the mid-90’s and improving off-speed command, Mize has been a dominant force in the preseason and his coach said now the goal is to become a more efficient pitcher in year two.
“Electric is the word I use with Casey Mize,” Thompson said. “I feel like he's just continued to get better. A young, prideful, great arm that knows he can strike you out when he gets on a role, especially with his slider, which he's capable of.
"In my experience, you're usually begging them to be more efficient. They get caught up in the six, seven pitch at-bats and it's not always their fault.
“He's just at a normal rate where he's trying to learn to be more efficient. We're clocking him five innings and not getting too close to that century mark. Pitch count is not everything, but that's a lot of pitches for that short of work. That's one area we're trying to focus on -- trusting our stuff enough to try to end at-bats sooner, but the ball is coming out of his hand great.”
Combining with redshirt junior Keegan Thompson, Mize forms a one-two punch that Butch Thompson said he believes has worked well to make both pitchers better dating back to last fall. Competing to make each other better, Mize said having someone like Keegan around has made him a better in every phase of the game.
“It has been awesome to have somebody to look up to really,” Mize said. “I had that last year with Camper (Justin Camp) and older guys like that, but Keegan is a different animal--everybody knows that. I respect what Keegan does every day and I respect what he’s done in the past. There’s just something about him that makes you want to learn from him.
“Hopefully, I can do that for somebody one day. I’m just soaking in everything I can because he’s very knowledgeable about the game when it comes to pitch calling and reading hitters and stuff like that. I’m learning everything I can from him. He pushes me and I push him. I think it’s really helped both of us.”
With the loss of much of the offense from last season’s team, this Auburn group is expected to center around pitching and defense in year two under Thompson. That’s just fine with Mize who said it’s just part of doing the job as a starter.
“I think starting pitching is what everybody expects us to be good at so there is a pressure that comes with that,” he said. “I believe in pressure to an extent, but if you're prepared enough then you're confident.
“I think we are held to a standard and we're going to be held to a standard all season long because of the talent level we have. We have to hold that standard for sure.”
Auburn will face George Washington in a four-game series this weekend at Plainsman Park. Game times are set for 2 p.m. on Friday, 11 a.m. start time for a doubleheader on Saturday and noon for Sunday’s final game.