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Tigers vs. Blue Jays Preview: Matthew Boyd gets the nod as the No. 2 starter

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Pitching was the story on Opening Day, and Friday’s starters will look to replicate their predecessors.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It always feels good to start with a win. The 2019 Detroit Tigers are unlikely to crash any sort of playoff race, but if the team wants to have any sort of playoff hope it needs to start off the season well. Carrying a perfect game into the seventh inning and winning on a homer in extra innings is just about as good of a start as the Tigers could have wanted.

The key players on Opening Day were a mix of both old and new. Jordan Zimmermann posted perhaps his best start ever in a Tigers uniform, allowing just one infield hit over seven scoreless innings. Meanwhile, youngster Christin Stewart was the hero, launching a two-run bomb in the top of the 10th to drive home the game’s only runs. For there to be any hope of competing, everyone will have to contribute across the roster.

That includes Game 2 starter Matthew Boyd, who is perhaps the most intriguing pitcher in the rotation. Boyd had a modest 4.39 ERA in 31 starts last season, but he was more impressive than the raw numbers may indicate. At 28 years old, and as a host of touted prospects rising through the system, 2019 could be a key year for Boyd and his future with the Tigers. He took plenty of steps forward in his fullest season to date, but he is still far from certain as a long-term piece of the roster.

Detroit Tigers (1-0) at Toronto Blue Jays (0-1)

Time/Place: 7:07 p.m., Rogers Centre
SB Nation site: Bluebird Banter
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matthew Boyd (9-13, 4.39 ERA) vs. RHP Matt Shoemaker (2-2, 4.94 ERA)

Game 2 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 170.1 22.4 7.2 4.5 2.1
Shoemaker 31.0 25.4 7.7 3.4 0.6

Matt Shoemaker will be making his first start with the Blue Jays after signing a modest one-year, $3.5 million contract over the offseason. He made just seven starts with the Angels last season after undergoing forearm surgery, and his last two seasons in Los Angeles were a struggle in terms of health. The veteran righthander is just a couple years removed from a 3.88 ERA and 3.52 FIP, but that pitcher may no longer exist after all of the injuries.

It was definitely not the largest sample size, but Shoemaker impressed with a 25.4 percent strikeout rate at the end of last season, giving hope for some sort of revitalization. His fastball velocity sat above his career average — around 92.0 miles per hour — and he posted his lowest career contact rate at 72.1 percent. The Tigers struck out 15 times on Thursday and might be vulnerable again.

Shoemaker’s peripherals were much more favorable than his 4.94 ERA, and while he may not be an ace, he has the potential to be a very serviceable starter even if he never returns to his pre-injury numbers. Maybe it takes a few starts to get into the full groove, but the Michigan native could be a surprise this season to those who have completely forgotten him.

Key matchup: Matthew Boyd vs. the road

Part of the discrepancy between Boyd’s numbers and the overall sentiment of his 2018 season was the stark difference between his performance at home and on the road. Both his ERA (2.63 vs. 5.89) and FIP (3.64 vs. 5.14) were dramatically worse away from Comerica Park, undoubtedly impacted by his elevated fly ball rate last season.

Boyd’s 49.9 percent fly ball rate in 2018 was 10 percentage points higher than in 2017, and though his home run to fly ball rate decreased slightly overall, it was dramatically higher on the road at 7.0 percent compared to 15.1 percent at home. This is consistent with his career split of 10.4 percent vs. 14.4 percent. In short, Boyd needs to reduce his fly ball rates to find sustained success. Most ballparks are not as forgiving as Comerica, including Rogers Centre, and the more balls fly he gives up on the road, the more home runs he is likely to concede.

Prediction

Boyd starts out the year on the right foot, giving up just a pair of runs to earn the win.