The Detroit Tigers played on Opening Day for the first time in four years, which was victory enough for some fans. That they also took home a 2-0 extra innings victory over the Toronto Blue Jays was icing on the cake.
There isn’t a lot we can take away from a single baseball game, but that’s all the sample we have for the 2019 edition of the Tigers. So let’s get a little crazy! Here are a few things we saw from the Tigers on Opening Day.
Christin Stewart looks like a legit big league hitter
This is easy to say after Stewart launched a game-winning home run to open the season, but I thought that Stewart had a few nice at-bats in the game despite only finishing 1-for-4. He saw 18 pitches, tied for third on the team, and worked a pair of deep counts against Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman. There were a couple of “welcome to the big leagues” moments when Stroman fanned him twice on sharp breaking balls, but one might argue that those are two of the best sliders Stewart has ever seen as a professional hitter.
Then, there’s the home run.
Stewart turns on a slider that stayed up in the zone and launches it 419 feet to give the Tigers the lead. For a young player that was hunting fastballs when Stroman was on the mound, making this mid-game adjustment to punish a mistake breaking ball is impressive.
Jordan Zimmermann was very sharp, especially with the slider
Zimmermann used to be a fastball-heavy pitcher, throwing it as often as 69 percent of the time in his days with the Washington Nationals. But on Thursday, he led with his slider, throwing it more often (29) than his four-seam fastball (25). He also mixed in 15 curveballs for good measure, giving him a scant 35.7 percent fastball usage rate.
Considering how well he was locating the slider, I don’t blame him.
There is a lot of white space in the middle of that strike zone, which is a good sign for Zimmermann. There were a couple of mistakes — one of those fastballs in the middle of the zone was tagged at 100.6 miles per hour by Danny Jansen — but Zimmermann will do very well if he has more days like this.
Miguel Cabrera isn’t quite his old self yet
It’s only one game, but Cabrera had a couple of relatively weak at-bats against Marcus Stroman. The inning-ending double play in the first inning wasn’t great, but the first pitch groundout with two runners on base in the sixth was also a killer. Cabrera looked great this spring, and has generally been effective when healthy over the past two years, but this opener was a game to forget.
Niko Goodrum could be in for a big year
We have to grasp at straws a bit after one game — especially one as pitching-dominated as Thursday’s opener — but Goodrum’s 1-for-3 effort was a solid day. He was one of two Tigers to reach base twice (Nicholas Castellanos was the other) and he saw more pitches than any other Tigers hitter. One of his outs was rather loud too, a deep fly out to center on a 3-1 count that might have gone differently on another day.
I was originally hoping to see Stewart move ahead of Goodrum in the lineup against right-handed hitters, but if he has more days like this, I may be changing my tune.
The bullpen worked just as planned
Some fans disagreed with the decision to take Zimmermann out after just 70 pitches, but I was excited to see how the bullpen would handle the high leverage situations.
And? They passed with flying colors. All three Tigers relievers were sharp in this game, and combined to allow just one hit and one walk in three innings. Shane Greene was particularly impressive, working a no-drama 1-2-3 inning to close out the win. Greene could, if nothing else, be an important trade chip for the Tigers this summer if he has a strong first half. He was a lights out reliever when he first converted to the bullpen in 2017, and a return to that form could be a huge get for the Tigers this year.