Why Matthew Boyd’s Opening Day start for Detroit Tigers is a nod to his leadership

Detroit Free Press

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Last week, Detroit Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd got called into his manager’s office. AJ Hinch wanted to talk about the pitching schedule for the remainder of spring training.

And then, Hinch made an unexpected comment: “That should line you up for Opening Day.”

On Monday, Hinch publicly announced Boyd as the Opening Day starter for April 1, when the Tigers take on the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park. This will be Boyd’s second consecutive Opening Day start, but his first with (at least 8,200) fans in the stands.

“It’s an honor,” Boyd said Monday. “It’s not something I take lightly. Opening Day in Detroit, it’s a state holiday. Getting to be out there for that, with the fans back in the seats, is very exciting. We’re all looking forward to ushering in this new era of Tigers baseball.”

[ Matthew Boyd to start Opening Day for Tigers vs. Cleveland ]

Yet Boyd’s impending Opening Day start means more than two in a row. (He still has a ways to go to catch the Tigers’ leaders — Hall of Famer Jack Morris made 11 straight from 1980-90 and likely future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander made seven straight from 2008-14.)

Boyd won’t say it, though. Dwelling on the past isn’t his strong suit. He always looks forward, focusing on what he can control.

But Hinch will say it.

When Hinch handed the esteemed role to Boyd, he displayed belief in the once-prized left-hander. This year, Boyd gets a chance to rewrite the downward trend of his career.

“Come off the season he had last year, he’s pitching with something to prove,” Hinch said Monday. “He’s always trying to get better. He takes it personal, everything about our pitching staff. Very personal.”

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Boyd’s 2020 season was a disaster by the numbers. The vet finished with a 6.71 ERA across 60⅓ innings in 12 starts. He gave up an MLB-leading 45 earned runs and 15 home runs, accumulating 60 strikeouts and 22 walks.

Some of his struggles can be attributed to a hamstring injury in July’s summer camp and plantar fasciitis in his left foot during his last few starts. His body wasn’t in constant pain, so he didn’t miss outings, but he grappled with the repetition of his delivery and often had to adjust his mechanics.

Regardless, Boyd hardly lived up to the honor of last season’s Opening Day start July 24 against the Cincinnati Reds. Or to the Tigers’ esteem when they held onto him at the 2019 trade deadline, then again during the 2019-20 offseason.

Always learning, Boyd took notes from his mistakes.

“It doesn’t matter what you got, if you’re grading your stuff,” Boyd said when asked about what he picked up from 2020. “Whether you’ve got your A, B, C, D or F stuff, you go out there and compete. When you go out there and compete, you give your team a chance to win.

“That’s all I can do: Go out there and compete, one pitch at a time. … That’s the only thing I can promise. And that’s one thing I learned and am trying to continue to learn every time I take the ball.”

There’s another reason why Boyd’s Opening Day start is important.

He is the leader of the pitching staff. Young prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal — both seemingly set to make the rotation — call upon him in times of dominance and difficulty. Whenever Matt Manning arrives for his MLB debut, he will surely lean on Boyd for advice, too. 

“We got a lot of guys that have talent,” Boyd said. “We all have that mentality, that when the game is on the line, we want the ball. We all want the ball. It’s instilled in us, top to bottom. We’re challenging ourselves to be great.”

This offseason, Boyd hosted Skubal, Daniel Norris and Spencer Turnbull at his home in Seattle.

Together, they watched highlights of two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom, pitching for the Mets. They trained at Driveline Baseball — self-described as the world’s premier data-driven baseball player development organization. And they drank beer and munched on pizza.

[ Four Tigers pitchers met up in Seattle this offseason. Here’s what they worked on ]

It goes back to what Hinch said.

Boyd takes his role as a leader personally, on and off the field.

“Having not been in the clubhouse with these guys before, you watch who gravitates to who,” Hinch said. “One of the first pitchers to come out and watch another starting pitcher was Matt Boyd. Early in spring, he snuck into the dugout and watched his fellow pitchers.

“That is a symbol of a guy that gets it, that understands he’s got a big presence on our team. While he’s got to worry about this own performance and getting himself back on track to being the pitcher that he’s been in the past, I’ve appreciated how he’s approached his spring.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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