Matthew Boyd trending up, Miguel Cabrera down but both needed if Detroit Tigers want to stun in 2020

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers left-handed pitcher Matthew Boyd tossed a high heater to Miguel Cabrera during live batting practice at Comerica Park in early July.

Cue vintage Cabrera: The 37-year-old took a hack and sent a screaming line drive over the opposite field wall, much like he has done 96 times in his career (but only twice last season).

Boyd missed his spot; Cabrera made him pay.

"It's fun to see Miggy do that," Boyd said afterward, smiling. "I know what I need to do to be better from that."

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Detroit Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd talks to catcher Austin Romine between innings during an intrasquad game at Comerica Park in Detroit, Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

The 29-year-old Boyd has grown to the point where he can laugh that one away. He's no longer just a kid from Oregon State or one of three prospects involved in the David Price trade nearly five years ago. He's the team's No. 1 starter, owns the respect of his teammates, and earned the prestigious Opening Day nod against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday.

"He knows what he's doing," veteran catcher Austin Romine said Tuesday. "He's been around the block, knows what he wants to get out of himself. I wouldn't throw 'perfectionist' out on him, but he's close to it. He likes to make sure his stuff is exactly where it needs to be."

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For just as many steps as Boyd has taken forward, Cabrera has taken them backward. As one grew into his own, the other lost bouts with the injury bug. This year, especially with a shortened schedule, both need to find their groove.

"Getting off to a good start is the way we can get on the right path," manager Ron Gardenhire said recently. "If we start off really struggling, that's going to be a little tougher for us. But we like what we have."

Tigers designated hitter Miguel Cabrera pats starting pitcher Matthew Boyd after the seventh inning of the Tigers' 4-3 win over the Royals on Friday, May 3, 2019, at Comerica Park.

Cabrera has lapsed in power over the past three seasons, no longer a 40-homer, 100-RBI threat. He's three seasons removed from 2016, the last time he made the All-Star Game.

Failing to produce has not always been by his own doing.

[ Here are 10 things the Tigers must figure out this season ]

He basically played on one leg last season and managed a .282 batting average, but was limited to 12 home runs and 59 RBIs. A disappointed Cabrera made the choice to lose weight. He showed up to spring training in February with a few new friends, namely first baseman C.J. Cron and second baseman Jonathan Schoop, and a slimmer body.

"I've seen Miguel Cabrera now more positive than ever with these guys around him," general manager Al Avila said Monday. "He knows he's got some protection in the lineup."

Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera goofs around during batting practice summer camp at Comerica Park in Detroit, Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

Defining Cabrera's success this season shouldn't have anything to do with trying to smash 32 home runs in 60 games, as Barry Bonds did in 2001. Since 2015, not many have cracked 20 homers in the first 60 games — It's a list of today's biggest starts, including Bryce Harper, Cody Bellinger, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Christian Yelich.

It's unrealistic to ask Cabrera to reach those marks.

[ Tigers bold predictions for 2020: Miggy as batting champ, Boyd as strikeout king? ]

But he still reigns supreme among right-handed hitters of his generation. And the Tigers will need him if they want to play meaningful games in September; his career .311 batting average in the months of July and August should help with that.

"That's Miguel Cabrera you're talking about," Gardenhire said. "When the bell rings, if he's healthy, and he looks great, normally he's going to be whacking it pretty good. Guy can still hit. He can really hit."

So while Boyd continues to make headway in hopes of cementing his status as an ace, Cabrera is on a personal revenge tour to prove he's not a has-been in today's game.

If their aspirations collide, the Tigers might find themselves in good shape when the 60-game sprint concludes.

"We're tired of getting our teeth kicked in," Boyd said Sunday. "It's happened a lot, and it's not fun. We got a lot of guys that people have given up on that are here now, and they're making a name for themselves. Guys that people have pushed to the side.

"We're just a bunch of junkyard dogs. We don't know what's going to happen, but we're hungry."

Dario Agrazal in starting rotation

Detroit Tigers pitcher Dario Agrazal during summer camp at Comerica Park, Tuesday, July 7, 2020.

Agrazal, 25, will open the season in the Tigers' starting rotation. He debuted last season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, going 4-5 over 15 games (14 starts) in 73⅓ innings with a 4.91 ERA and 1.364 WHIP. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound right-hander allowed 15 home runs, struck out 41 and walked 18.

Boyd, Ivan Nova and Spencer Turnbull are the starting pitchers in the season-opening series in Cincinnati this weekend.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold