Despite dropping their first Opening Day game in 10 seasons, the Detroit Tigers had an all-around decent and interesting outing on Friday. It was filled with plenty of ups and downs, exciting moments, and some disappointing play. However, it was fun baseball that made it easy to enjoy despite the loss. If the Tigers can continue playing like this, even if they lose a ton of games this season, they will be engaging and intriguing [Ed.: But let’s keep them under five hours, please].
Even though it’s only the first game of the season, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about some of the main takeaways we have after the Tigers’ first game.
Jordan Zimmermann was better than you think
It’s safe to say that Zimmermann silenced his critics, including myself, regarding whether he should have been the Tigers’ Opening Day starter. If you look at his stat line — 6 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 8 SO — you wouldn’t think Zimmermann did that well. But he pitched so much better than the line score shows. The Tigers’ defense failed to make a couple of plays behind him that gave the Pirates a prime opportunity to score a couple of runs, which is really the only blemish on a terrific outing. It’s only one start, but Zimmermann looked like the Zimmermann we saw in 2016 when he started his Tigers career on a 24 1⁄3 inning scoreless streak. He located his pitches well on Friday, which was the main factor in his eight strikeouts. Manager Ron Gardenhire was vindicated in one of his first big decisions as manager.
Jeimer Candelario might be really good
Candelario is picking up right where he left off in 2017, with solid at-bats and few wasted opportunities. He walked three times in Friday’s opener, and also bagged his first hit of the year. He now has 32 hits and 13 walks in his last 98 regular season at-bats, with only 18 strikeouts since becoming a Tiger. No doubt, he has been on a tear. Hopefully he can keep that going. This will be an important season in Candelario’s growth and development into an everyday third basemen and a threat at the plate.
Miguel Cabrera finally looks healthy
There was a healthy amount of concern, but even more optimism surrounding Cabrera coming into the 2018 season. Fans weren’t sure if the days of a dominant Miguel Cabrera at the plate were behind him, or whether he was just plagued by injuries. It seems the latter is more true given how well he looked on Friday. He tallied two hits and a walk. More importantly, he looked comfortable he looked at the plate again. Last year, you could tell Cabrera had difficulties with pitches on the corners of the plate due to the injuries he was playing through. Any swings at those pitched looked uncomfortable. Thankfully, there were no signs of that in any of his at-bats on Friday.
JaCoby Jones had a nice day
Jones had a ton of bright spots last season, but after taking a pitch to the face, he never really seemed to have that same edge at the dish like he did at the beginning of the season. This led him to struggle for much of the second half. On Friday, he was given a huge opportunity in the bottom of the 10th inning with one man on and two outs, Jones worked a 3-2 count before hitting a single to left field, which scored Castellanos to win the game. It’s not Jones’ fault the play was overturned on a controversial call. Despite what the umpires say, Jones hit a walk-off on Friday. Look for him to build off a solid first appearance of the season.
Dixon Machado, offensive superstar?
Man, where did that bat come from? Machado is not typically known for his bat, but he notched two key hits for the Tigers on Friday. In the second inning, he singled in Jose Iglesias to put the Tigers up by two runs early. Then, in the bottom of the ninth with two men on base and the Tigers down by two, Machado doubled in both James McCann and Jose Iglesias to tie the ballgame and send it into extra innings. Machado did have a couple of defensive miscues, but the defense shouldn’t be too concerning going forward.
The Veteran Effect might be a thing
Fox Sports Detroit announcer Rod Allen made a good point during the Tigers Live postgame show; we are seeing the early effect former Tiger Ian Kinsler had on young guys like Dixon Machado and Jeimer Candelario. That extends to other former veterans too, like Justin Wilson, Justin Upton, Justin Verlander, Alex Avila, and J.D. Martinez, and what effect they had on the younger players like JaCoby Jones, Mikie Mahtook, Shane Greene, and others. You will continue to see the fruits of those former Tiger veterans’ efforts to help grow and develop the younger players.
Alex Wilson battled his tail off*
Wilson has been the Tigers’ best reliever in recent memory. He posted back-to-back years of at least 70 innings pitched and an ERA under 3.00 in 2015 and 2016. However, we saw a different Alex Wilson in 2017, one who struggled with staying healthy as much as he did with getting hitters out. As badly as fans want Wilson to turn it around, no one wants that more for Wilson than himself. We saw that on Friday when Wilson was called upon in a big way, having to pitch multiple innings to keep the team in the game. Wilson pitched three solid innings, but finally allowed back-to-back singles before being burnt by a Gregory Polanco homer. Wilson took the loss, but it’s hard to hold that against him given how long he was asked to pitch for — he has never thrown more pitches in a single game with the Tigers.
*[Ed.: Don’t be surprised to hear that saying from Ron Gardenhire a few times this year.]
The bullpen... woof
Yes, the Tigers bullpen is bad. It’s our curse. I don’t expect that to change and neither should you. This bullpen is going to blow leads because it’s what they do.
The defense... woof
You can throw the defense right in there with the bullpen. The Tigers’ defense is bad. It’s will be bad going forward, and I don’t expect that to change. Even Machado, who is mostly known for his glove, made a couple of mistakes on Friday.
Ron Gardenhire was as expected
We were blessed to see a Ron Gardenhire ejection on Opening Day, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. Gardenhire was tossed in the 10th inning following JaCoby Jones’ walk-off single that should have won the Tigers the game. Gardenhire definitely got his money’s worth in, even though the guy he was chewing out didn’t overturn the call. We also expected bullpen mismanagement and were not disappointed, considering Gardenhire gave Drew VerHagen and Daniel Stumpf the baseball in the eight inning with a two-run lead. I do give Gardenhire credit for pinch running for Victor Martinez in the eighth, even though the Tigers were already up by two runs at that point.