Detroit — It’s likely to be a little wet and a little cold Friday afternoon, but with the Mardi Gras atmosphere that Opening Day brings to this city and the adrenalin that will be created by a jam-packed house at Comerica Park, who’s going to feel it?
“It feels great,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said in the dugout prior to putting his team through a light workout in similar wet and chilly conditions Thursday. “It doesn’t matter if it’s sunny or it’s cold or it’s raining, we’re happy to be here.”
The Tigers will open the 2022 season against the defending Central Division champion Chicago White Sox at 1:10 p.m. They will be facing a familiar foe, White Sox ace right-hander Lucas Giolito, whom they saw five times last year and beat him three times, averaging more than five runs a game against him.
Getting the start for the Tigers is their brand new ace, former Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, whom they signed in November for five years and $77 million.
“I loved his preparation coming into camp,” Hinch said. “He was prepared physically. He’s taking the responsibility of being the Opening Day starter very seriously.”
Rodriguez talked in spring about what it meant to get the ball on Opening Day.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I know there have been a lot of big-name guys who have started Opening Day over here. It’s an honor to be named Opening Day starter here.
“Being the Opening Day starter is what every starting pitcher wants to be.”
Rodriguez was supposed to be the Red Sox Opening Day starter the last two seasons but ended up being scratched – contracting COVID-19 in 2020 and then starting the season on the injured list last year.
“He wants to anchor a staff,” Hinch said. “I think his success in Boston sets him up nicely to be a leader on this staff and take down a lot of innings. I think for Eduardo, the bigger the stage the better he’s going to be, so the high expectations for him and for our team are right up his alley.”
It will also be the Detroit debuts for shortstop Javy Baez, catcher Tucker Barnhart, left fielder Austin Meadows and top prospect first baseman Spencer Torkelson.
“Tork is ready on a lot of levels,” said Hinch, who half-jokingly asked the media to leave him alone for a couple weeks so he can settle in. “He’s ready emotionally, he’s ready physically. He doesn’t have to carry us, he just has to be really good.”
Hinch said he planned to bat Torkelson toward the bottom of the order initially just to get his feet wet, then gradually move him up as his performance dictates. He did the same with rookie Akil Baddoo last year.
“I know there is only one first day in the big leagues and it’s a big step for this organization since he was such a big prospect, but Tork just needs to be one of the guys,” Hinch said.
Meadows, whom the Tigers acquired from Tampa Bay on Tuesday, didn’t seem any worse for wear given the quick change in direction his career just took.
“I’m just excited, really,” said Meadows, the older brother of Tigers prospect Parker Meadows. “This is a good, young squad with some really good veterans, obviously, and I feel like I’m going to fit right in.”
Hinch said he expects Meadows to hit in the top half of his batting order and be the everyday left-fielder.
“He’s been on a playoff team the last three years in Tampa and hit in the middle of that order for the most part,” Hinch said. “He brings a lot of energy. He’s going to be a productive player for us.”
Meadows, who will turn 27 on May 3, brings a left-handed power bat, which against all the strong right-handed pitchers the Tigers face in the division, is a big plus. He endured a rough, injury-plagued 2020 season, but in 2019 (when he was named to the All-Star team) and last year, he produced 60 home runs and 195 RBIs.
“I know that when I am able to stay on the field and stay healthy, I’m able to do good things for a team,” Meadows said.
Opening Day is such a singular party in Detroit, it’s easy to forget that it’s just the first of a six-month, 162-game endurance test. And the schedule is not letting the Tigers’ ease into it.
They will play 10 straight games right out of the gate and 21 in 24 days this month, most against division rivals and expected playoff contenders (White Sox, Royals, Twins, Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers).
“I’ve never really felt like the schedule is ever relenting,” Hinch said. “There is a lot of talent in this league. There’s always these thoughts that you can have a soft schedule or a tough schedule – no, the big leagues is hard.”
Hinch pointed out, too, the Tigers did pretty well against playoff teams last year. They went 28-25 against them, the only sub-.500 team to have a winning record against teams that made the post-season.
“I don’t know if they expected us to beat them, but we did,” he said. “Our mentality is, we don’t care about the schedule, we don’t care where we play or who we play, we’re going to be ready.”
Around the horn
…The White Sox will be without the starting left side of their infield Friday and Saturday. Third baseman Yoan Moncada will miss at least three weeks with an oblique strain. Shortstop Tim Anderson will miss the first two games of the season serving the suspension he received at the end of last season when he bumped umpire Tim Timmons during a benches-clearing incident at Comerica Park.
…Missing from the Tigers short, optional workout Thursday was Baez. Hinch said he had to take care of some family business. He is expected to be in the lineup Friday.
…The White Sox dominated the Tigers last season, winning 12 of the 19 games and outscoring them 106-71.