Welcome to my annual Detroit Tigers opening day observations piece. It’s difficult to glean a decent volume of useful nuggets from one frozen day in Minneapolis, but here goes:
The Tigers looked cold. I was half expecting Prince Fielder to come out for his 2nd at-bat in a full-on snowmobile suit.
- The Tigers nabbed a 4-2 win, on the road. Yes, it was against the Twins who are going to have all kinds of trouble winning games this year but Detroit was just 38-43 away from Comerica Park last year, which was what ultimately prevented them from running away with the division. Any and all road wins are good. Take none of them for granted.
- Justin Verlander looked good on a day where it had to be really tough to get a feel for his breaking stuff. After five shutout innings and 91 pitches, Jim Leyland elected to pull JV. Verlander gave up 3 hits and 2 walks while striking out 7. The short leash proved to be enough to get Justin his 1st win of the year, but not his 1st quality start. A starting pitcher must complete six innings to earn that distinction.
- Leyland’s quick hook also turned a game that was on cruise control into a drawn-out, drama-filled affair thanks mostly to Drew Smyly’s performance.
- Smyly gave up 3 hits and 3 walks in just 1.1 innings in his new role as reliever. I’m sure he is disappointed to be working out of the pen but it is a role he must embrace. If he pitches this poorly for more than a few weeks then things won’t end well for him. I don’t expect that to be the case though.
- Ultimately, Smyly gave way to Al Alburquerque with the bases juiced and one out in the 7th. He gave up a single on his first pitch to Ryan Doumit that allowed one of the inherited runners to score. He then struck out the next two batters to end the inning. His fastball had great movement. His usually wicked slider was lumpy, probably due to the temps and not being able to get a good grip.
- Joaquin Benoit then locked down the next 4 outs. Leyland elected to use him for more than just one inning, which shows me that he is willing to step outside of his comfort zone to manage the nuances of his new ‘closer by committee’ situation.
- And, as expected, Phil Coke got the last 2 outs to earn the team’s first save of the year. He struck out Justin Morneau and induced a Doumit fly out to right. If Coke takes this job and runs with it then Leyland will be one happy man. However, his appearance yesterday was largely matchup driven, which will be the early season norm. Had a stream of righties been due up it would have been Benoit or Dotel in the 9th and Coke in the 8th. The lefty Morneau and switch-hitting Doumit made a lot of sense for Coke to be the one that was called upon.
- As a staff, Tigers pitchers posted 12 strikeouts yesterday, which marks the most K’s by the club on Opening Day since at least 1916.
- Verlander now has 125 wins in 233 career games, which ties him with Tom Seaver & Mike Mussina for 6th-most through 233 games since at least 1916.
- The Tigers got 2 hits apiece from Torii Hunter, Fielder, Jhonny Peralta, and Omar Infante. Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera combined to go 1 for 10. Offensive production out of the middle infield will be a quiet key to Detroit’s season. So far, so good.
- My prediction is that yesterday’s win was the 1st of 95 from this year’s version of the Tigers.
- For game 2 of the series tomorrow it is supposed to be sunny and 52 in Minneapolis with Anibal Sanchez taking on Kevin Correia. First pitch is once again set for 4:10 eastern.
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