After a lengthy delay, Opening Day is finally here, with the Reds and Tigers meeting to begin their 2020 seasons on Friday at Great American Ball Park. After three weeks of mostly intrasquad scrimmages, meaningful games against an opponent are welcome.
“Yeah, it's going to be fun to see another team and play in another stadium and get this thing rolling,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “That's what we've been waiting for for a long time, since Spring Training ended the first time. We've been waiting to get to this point."
Cincinnati is a trendy pick for the National League Central, while Detroit is hoping to make progress in developing its players during a rebuild.
Certainly, this opener will have a different look and feel to it without fans inside the stadium because of the pandemic, but it will still be baseball, and the importance of every game in a 60-game season will be amplified.
“We’ve all been raised to play in front of no fans -- whether it’s been on backfields, during instructional league, during extended spring training games, Florida State League games, Arizona Summer League games, even the intrasquad games,” Reds first baseman Joey Votto said. “I promise you once the games start and our competition is on the field and we’ve got something to play for, you’re going to get the very best of everybody.”
The Reds spent $166 million on free agents during the offseason to add Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama to their lineup to join Votto, Eugenio Suárez, Nick Senzel and others. Wade Miley was added to an already elite rotation, and Pedro Strop was brought in to shore up the late innings for the bullpen.
Meanwhile, the Tigers will feature a slimmed-down superstar in Miguel Cabrera, while Austin Romine, C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop will be making their debuts for Detroit.
When is the game, and how can I watch it?
First pitch is at 6:10 p.m. ET. The game will be carried nationally on MLB Network and each of the local markets on Fox Sports Ohio and Fox Sports Detroit. Both the Reds (700 WLW AM) and Tigers (97.1 WXYT FM) radio networks will also be broadcasting.
The starting lineups
Tigers: Gardenhire had been debating where to slot Schoop. For now, he’ll likely use an old Jim Leyland strategy of putting a power hitter in the second spot. Niko Goodrum, who hit in eight of nine spots last season, gets a chance at leadoff; he struggled to reach base in 2019 but scored 24 runs in 29 games. Cron slots into the cleanup spot behind Cabrera. The Tigers are counting on Jeimer Candelario and Christin Stewart to provide some run production behind Cron.
Reds: Manager David Bell would normally bat Akiyama first against a right-handed pitcher, but with lefty Matthew Boyd starting for the Tigers on Friday, Bell has swapped him out in favor of right-handed-hitting Matt Davidson. The middle of the order -- with Suárez, Castellanos and Moustakas -- should have plenty of octane to boost a club that was 12th in the NL last season in runs, average and OPS.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Tigers: Boyd makes his first career Opening Day start coming off a season in which he emerged as the top starter in Detroit's rotation. In 2019, Boyd finished sixth in the American League with 238 strikeouts and fourth with 11.56 strikeouts per nine innings while posting a 9-12 record and a 4.56 ERA in 32 starts.
“It truly is an honor,” Boyd said. “I remember the days going to watch Jamie Moyer and Freddy Garcia and Felix Hernandez over the course of 10-plus years in Seattle, thinking how much fun that would be to do that someday, knowing that I would do it someday. To do it for a franchise like this one, we love this team, we have a close-knit squad, every game counts the same, but it's an honor to take the ball on the first day, and I'm excited for it.”
Reds: Sonny Gray will make the third Opening Day start of his career and his first for Cincinnati. (The others were for Oakland in 2014 and ’15.) Gray is heading a rotation that MLB.com ranked as the third best in baseball after a superb first year with the Reds in ’19. The 30-year-old, who made the All-Star team, was 11-8 with a 2.87 ERA and 205 strikeouts over 175 1/3 innings. That included going 8-3 with a 1.99 ERA over his final 15 starts, beginning on June 28. The former American Leaguer is familiar with the Tigers but acknowledges that much of that could be moot in 2020.
“This is going to be such a different season. You don't really know what guys are going to be trying to do, to be honest,” Gray said. “What's a team's approach for this season? What's a hitter's approach for this season? You don't necessarily know going into it. You can do your scouting, and you can do your reports and you can have a lot of information on guys, which is what we do and what we're going to have. But at the same time, especially these first couple of weeks when you're playing, you're going to have to kind of just do you. You're going to have to be yourself out there and just do you and read things on the fly.”
How will the bullpens lineup after the starter?
Tigers: The bullpen is wide open after closer Joe Jimenez and setup man Buck Farmer, with a lot of promising young arms in first-time situations. Gregory Soto is a high-velocity left-hander, but Gardenhire could lean on Nick Ramirez and his deceptive changeup for key outs after Ramirez filled a variety of roles last year. Jose Cisnero returned to the Majors last summer, five years after his last appearance, in Houston, and brings an upper-90s fastball. Keep an eye on Bryan Garcia, a former University of Miami closer with a quality slider when he’s on.
Reds: Including closer Raisel Iglesias looking to rebound from a down year, Cincinnati has a formidable five relievers it will likely count on in the late innings (lefty Amir Garrett, and righties Michael Lorenzen, Pedro Strop and Robert Stephenson). There are two additional lefties in Cody Reed and Brooks Raley, who returns to the Major Leagues after a five-year stint in Korea. Non-roster righty and Northern Kentucky native Nate Jones also made the club as he completed a comeback from a torn flexor mass tendon. At the front end, Tyler Mahle and Lucas Sims can serve as long relief or piggyback starters who can bridge the game when starts are short.
Any injuries of note?
Tigers: Daniel Norris reported to camp on Tuesday after clearing COVID-19 protocol. He’s healthy, but probably won’t join the rotation right away while he builds up his arm. Michael Fulmer is healthy and ready for his first start in 22 months following knee surgery and Tommy John surgery, but he will be handled cautiously as he stretches out his pitch count. Jordan Zimmermann is on the 45-day injured list with a strained right forearm and could miss the final season of his contract.
Reds: After right shoulder surgery rehabs that could have prevented them from playing in the originally scheduled opener, both Suárez and Senzel are 100 percent healthy to begin the season. There were a couple of minor injuries during Summer Camp. Lorenzen missed the last few scrimmages with a sore right forearm. Castellanos returned to the exhibition lineup on Tuesday after he was out with a bruised upper back from being hit by a pitch last Friday.
Who is hot and who is not?
Tigers: Cron hit four home runs in intrasquad action in Summer Camp and would have had a fifth if not for a highlight catch over the left-field fence by top outfield prospect Riley Greene. Stewart showed a slimmer body and more aggressive mindset to win a starting job in left field. Candelario changed his batting stance to use his lower body more and benefited from a strong finish to camp to win back his starting role at third base. Cabrera struggled early in intrasquad games but heated up in the final week.
Reds: Many felt Senzel was the biggest beneficiary of the extra time off, as he went from rehabbing an injury to training specifically to be ready for the season. It showed on the field, as he often made loud contact during the scrimmages. Jesse Winker also hit the ball hard and often. After a slow start, Akiyama came on strong in the last week of scrimmages and slugged his first unofficial home run in Tuesday’s exhibition game vs. Detroit -- a three-run drive to center field.
Anything else fans might want to know?
• This will be the first time Castellanos faces his former club. The Tigers made Castellanos their supplemental first-round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, and he spent seven seasons with Detroit before being traded to the Cubs on July 31.
• Suárez also got his start in the Tigers organization after he was signed out of Venezuela in 2008. He was acquired by Cincinnati on Dec. 11, 2014, in a trade that sent pitcher Alfredo Simon to Detroit.
• Cameron Maybin will be the first Tigers player to play over three stints with the club.
• The teams have an all-time 13-13 record against each other. The last time the Reds and Tigers met was during a pair of two-game series in 2018. Cincinnati won both games at GABP, and Detroit swept at Comerica Park.
• The Reds and Tigers will meet six times over their first 10 games of 2020.