Miguel Cabrera, Matthew Boyd help Detroit Tigers top Cleveland Indians 3-2 on Opening Day

Detroit Free Press

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Despite frigid temperatures and an early snowstorm, the Detroit Tigers returned to Comerica Park on Thursday for Opening Day.

The Tigers welcomed back fans — a sellout crowd of 8,000 spectators  — in style, as left-hander Matthew Boyd pitched into the sixth inning, Miguel Cabrera crushed a two-run homer and promising lefty reliever Gregory Soto worked a shaky save.

Manager AJ Hinch, hired in late October, picked up his first win in his managerial debut for the Tigers (1-0) with the 3-0 win over the Cleveland Indians, getting the better of 2020 American League Cy Young winner Shane Bieber.

The Tigers do not play Friday but return to Comerica Park on Saturday for a 1:10 p.m. ET matchup with the Indians. Right-hander Julio Teheran is pitching for the Tigers against righty Zach Plesac.

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Boyd bests Bieber

In the fifth inning, Boyd walked Cesar Hernandez on nine pitches to put runners on first and second base with two outs. That’s when Jose Ramirez, a favorite for American League MVP this season, stepped into the batter’s box. A mound visit helped Boyd set his plan. Two pitches later, Boyd was walking off the mound after Ramirez flied out to right field.

Although Bieber collected an impressive 12 strikeouts, Boyd didn’t try to surpass his punch-out total. Rather, the Tigers starter pitched to contact and allowed his defense to work behind en route to besting Bieber.

Boyd came back out for the sixth inning and quickly worked two hitters into ground outs. But when Josh Naylor singled, Hinch called on Jose Cisnero from the bullpen to get the final out. Boyd finished with no runs allowed on three hits and four walks with two strikeouts.

He used 92 pitches (57 strikes) and got seven swings-and-misses, two each with his fastball, slider and changeup. His fastball averaged 90.6 mph. And his opponents merely averaged an 84.8 mph exit velocity, a metric used to measure the speed of bat-to-ball contact.

Last season, Boyd had a 6.71 ERA in 12 starts, allowing an MLB-leading 45 earned runs and 15 home runs, but he dealt with injuries. He boosted his strike throwing this spring and seems to be back on track with the help from Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter.

Miggy in the snow

For the third time in his career, Cabrera — in his 19th MLB season and set to turn age 38 on April 18 — homered on Opening Day. The last two times were in 2007 and 2008. This year, however, he accomplished the feat amid a snowstorm, 32-degree temperature and one of the best pitchers in the major leagues. It was Cabrera’s 488th career home run and his 350th as a member of the Tigers.

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He is now five home runs away from tying Lou Gehrig and Fred McGriff for 28th place on the all-time homers list. Also, Cabrera became the second Tiger — along with Al Kaline — to record 350-plus homers and 2,000-plus hits in a Detroit uniform. 

In the top of the fourth inning, Cabrera made a diving stop at first base to take a single away from Naylor and keep a run from scoring. A roller through the hole would’ve scored Eddie Rosario from second base.

Cabrera extended, with his stomach to the dirt, and fielded the ball. He made a throw from his knees to shortstop Willi Castro, who was covering second base for a force out. The next batter, Yu Chang, popped out to catcher Wilson Ramos, helping Boyd escape the jam.

Thursday served as Cabrera’s first regular-season contest at first base since June 18, 2019. He was the full-time designated hitter last season.

Hinch previously committed to playing Cabrera at least once or twice per week. And it’s likely Hinch wasn’t kidding around when he said the future Hall of Famer is the team’s best option at first base.

Soto gets his chance

Hinch isn’t ready to name a closer, at least he wasn’t ready before Opening Day. But when the time came, left-hander Gregory Soto got the baseball in the ninth inning with a three-run lead.

The 26-year-old got Naylor to ground out, but Amed Rosario beat out a throw from third baseman Jeimer Candelario for an infield single. Then, it got worse, as Roberto Perez clobbered a 98 mph sinker beyond the left-field wall, cutting the Indians’ deficit to 3-2. Following the second out, Soto walked Ben Gamel on five pitches.

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Finally, Soto ended the game, locking in a 3-2 win, by getting Hernandez to pop out to the shallow part of right field. Of Soto’s 27 pitches, he used just seven sliders. He didn’t get any swings-and-misses, a rarity for his 97.6 mph fastball and tough slider.

It’s safe to say Soto is likely going to be the Tigers’ closer — whether Hinch says so or not — unless poor performances or an injury bump him out of the role. Yet Thursday’s outing probably didn’t help his case.

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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