DETROIT -- Considering the opposition, the Tigers probably would have taken a 3-3 season-opening homestand going into Opening Day. After all, Cleveland and Minnesota combined to go 13-7 against Detroit last year and 32-6 in 2019.
Still, the Tigers had reason to feel like Wednesday afternoon’s 3-2 loss to the Twins was a missed opportunity for a second consecutive series win. Matthew Boyd delivered seven innings in a game for the first time since Aug. 18, 2019. Rule 5 Draft sensation Akil Baddoo continued his historic start by tripling in one run and throwing out a runner at second base for his first outfield assist. But a pair of outs at the plate loomed large in a scoreless sixth inning for Detroit that featured four baserunners.
The Tigers’ opening schedule gets no easier. After an off-day Thursday, they’ll hit the road for a 10-game trip to Cleveland, Houston and Oakland, all playoff teams from last year. They’ll pack their bags with a .500 record and a few lessons learned from the opening homestand:
1. Baddoo is pushing for playing time
The plan going into the season was for manager A.J. Hinch to pick and choose favorable matchups to ease Baddoo into his first game action above Class A ball. But like he did in Spring Training, Baddoo is forcing the issue with his play. No Major League player since 1900 has hit a grand slam, another home run and a walk-off hit within his first three games. Then came a triple and an outfield assist Wednesday.
“His first few games have been about as active as you can get when you’re getting introduced to the big leagues,” Hinch said.
Baddoo has shown an ability to adjust to how pitchers attack him, turning on a slider for Tuesday’s game-winning single and crushing a changeup for Wednesday’s triple as the Twins moved away from fastballs.
2. Boyd learning lessons from last year
Boyd has led the league in home runs allowed for the last two seasons, and he posted the Majors’ highest ERA last year. But through two starts and 12 2/3 innings this season, he has yet to allow a home run and owns a 2.13 ERA. The Twins loaded up on right-handed hitters to challenge Boyd, and the lefty answered by using his changeup (29 out of 96 pitches) more often than his slider (27). The offspeed pitch, which he worked on in the offseason, produced six of his 13 swings and misses.
“It’s been good,” Boyd said after his eight-strikeout performance. “It’s another weapon going the opposite way [from the slider].”
Just as important, Boyd won the race to two strikes that Hinch has preached, throwing first-pitch strikes to his first 19 batters and putting eight of the first 11 in an 0-2 count. That mix has to continue next week in Houston against a hot Astros lineup.
3. Tigers apply pressure on basepaths
Hinch cautioned in Spring Training that he wanted to run the bases aggressively, and to expect some outs as a result early in the season. On Wednesday, Willi Castro tested Minnesota left fielder Jake Cave, who dove at and missed Miguel Cabrera’s line-drive double but recovered to deliver the ball to Gold Glove Award-winning shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who made a perfect relay home.
“We made them execute a play,” Hinch said. “In a close game, it’s always magnified, and it doesn’t feel very good when you get the guy thrown out at home. The guy bounced up in left field. He’s on the ground when Willi rounded second. He made the long throw. Andrelton Simmons, one of the best in the league, made a chest-high throw to home and they got the out.
“Obviously that’s an aggressive play, and there’s no outs and I understand the magnitude of it. I think it was more about them executing.”
Three batters later, Cabrera tagged up on Jonathan Schoop’s fly ball to medium right field. Kyle Garlick threw him out easily at the plate.
“Miggy’s going to read that depth,” Hinch said. “[Garlick] made another chest-high throw. A lot can happen in that 180- to 200-foot throw. … There’s no blame to be had there. That’s a play where they have to execute a perfectly long throw. He did it in the air, chest-high throw, easy tag. Obviously if they don’t execute, we’re talking about Miggy’s aggressive baserunning.”
The result might lead fans to second-guess third-base coach Chip Hale, but don’t expect Hinch to ease up.
“In the result business, it’s tough to make two outs at home there,” Hinch said, “but the Twins did a great job of executing on both.”