Matthew Boyd will start Opening Day for Detroit Tigers
Lakeland, Fla. – AJ Hinch gave him the old soft play.
He took left Matthew Boyd to his office prior to his start last Saturday and talked to him generally about the pitching schedule, his work between starts and some other general household items.
Then he said casually, “We’ll put you before the opening day.”
Waiting. What was the last part?
“He was really casual,” Boyd said Monday after Hinch made the formal announcement. “He kind of dropped it on me. It was very special. “
Boyd was the starter on the Tigers’ opening day last year too, but this is a whole different beast. The opening day was in late July last year and took place in an empty Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. This time it’s April 1st at Comerica Park and there will be at least 8,000 fans in the stands.
“We’re really excited,” said Boyd. “It’s not our game, it’s the fan game. We feel what the fans feel. We see them out there. We’ve all heard stories about kids in elementary school playing the game in the back of the room.
“Tigers Baseball is a way of life in Michigan, and knowing that there will be fans there to share, entertain and fight for makes it special.”
You can argue about whether Boyd is the best starting pitcher on the Tigers’ staff, the hell he’s going to argue that with you himself. However, there is no debate about his status as the leader of the tiger staff.
“He’s a great presence on our team,” said Hinch. “But he’s also learning non-stop. And after the season he had last year, he also has something to prove. “
Boyd made all 12 of his starts in the pandemic-curtailed 2020 season, but he’s never been entirely healthy. He had a hamstring injury and later plantar fasciitis which caused him to change his mechanics to compensate for the pain.
The results were ugly – he led the American League in runs (45) and home runs (15).
“He spent most of the off-season interacting with me and (pitcher coach Chris) Fetter and doing his own thing out there in the great northwest (Seattle),” said Hinch. “He’s always trying to get better. He takes it personally. He takes everything about our pitching staff personally.
“He’s a leader and the guy people turn to.”
Above all, Boyd returned healthy. He’s armed again with what was one of the meanest sliders in baseball in 2019. With this, Boyd, together with his fastball with four seams, his change and a newly designed curveball, has again held his own at the top of the tiger rotation.
Not that he sees it that way.
“You look at our staff and we have six people who are all going to take the ball,” he said. “You can call it A-1, A-2, A-3, A-4, A-5, A-6. We have a lot of talented people and we all have the mentality that we want the ball when the game is on the line. If it’s a game we have to win, we all want the ball.
“I think none of us see another as better than the other.”
Hinch presented the inaugural awards to some Cy Young Award winners during his time with Houston – Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander (who started nine times on the opening day for the Tigers). He knows what it symbolizes and what it means to the player.
“These meetings are always emotional and they are always special,” he said. “There’s a smile and a joy that hits a player’s face … There’s just something else on opening day that can’t be repeated.”
It also comes with responsibility.
“You have to do the right things,” said Hinch. “Things are important. But in this home opening game, you’ll be ahead of Cleveland in the first inning and you will face some pretty good players. You want to put that first zero.
“The starter on the opening day doesn’t have to be the leader, doesn’t have to be the most pronounced, doesn’t really have to be the best. But he has to be able to handle a lot emotionally. “
Hinch had a pretty good feeling that Boyd would be that guy very early in the camp. He noticed that many players, not just pitchers, came to him with all sorts of questions. In the off-season, he also noted that Boyd had a continuous text exchange with all of the other starting mugs, regardless of whether they were on the 40-man roster or potential customers.
He heard the stories of Boyd taking Spencer Turnbull, Tarik Skubal and Daniel Norris to his self-made pitching lab and setting it up with sessions at Driveline.
Then he noticed that Boyd always stayed back to watch other pitchers’ bullpens, and spring begins.
“For me this is a symbol of a man who gets it,” said Hinch. “It means he has a huge presence on this team.”
Boyd wore an Oregon State sweatshirt during the Zoom call Monday. He’s pretty excited to have his beavers make it to Sweet Sixteen. Your success could be the only thing he could like as much as the ball on opening day at Comerica Park.
“It’s an honor,” he said. “I don’t take this lightly. It will be our first game at Comerica. It’s so special. Opening day in Detroit is a state holiday and to be in front of the fans out there we are all excited.
“We are all looking forward to ushering in this new era of tiger baseball.”