On a team of 'junkyard dogs,' Matthew Boyd honored to be Tigers' Opening Day starter

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – The phrase, “I never dreamed I would…” isn’t in Matthew Boyd’s vocabulary. If he sees something he wants, he doesn’t just dream it, he believes he will achieve it.

Like, for example, being the Opening Day starter for a Major League Baseball team.

“I remember the days of going to watch Jamie Moyer and Freddie Garcia and Felix Hernandez in Seattle and just thinking how much fun it would be to do that one day and knowing I would do it someday,” he said Sunday after the Tigers announced the worst-kept secret in baseball – that Boyd would indeed be the Tigers’ starter Friday in the season opener in Cincinnati.

Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd throws live batting practice at Detroit Tigers Summer Camp at Comerica Park on Sunday.

“It’s flattering,” he said. “It’s an honor and it’s something I don’t take lightly at all. It’s exciting. … It will be different without being able to share it with the fans in person, but I’m sure it’ll be special on TV with all the things that they do.”

You could tell Boyd was processing and putting the honor into perspective as he was answering questions on a Zoom video call, because he kept getting more excited as he talked.

“I get chills thinking about it,” he said. “With flyovers and all the pageantry, the bunting everywhere, it’s just special,” he said. “And I know what Opening Day means here in Detroit. It’s something I don’t take lightly. It is truly an honor and flattering that I get to do this.”

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Boyd said he was told he would be starting Opening Day three or four days before spring training was shut down in Lakeland.

“I shared it with my family and they all booked flights to Cleveland,” he said, which was the pre-virus schedule. “Luckily Delta (Airlines) refunded some of those fares. They will all be watching back home in Seattle. Everyone is so excited. It’s going to be fun.”

Boyd finished up his camp work Sunday. He threw three innings and 41 pitches to  hitters on the field and then, because of the storm blowing in, finished the last two innings throwing to catcher Austin Romine in the batting cage.

He threw close to 70 pitches.

“He’s fine,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s ready for Day One.”

This will be Boyd’s fifth full season in Detroit and his third as de facto ace of staff. He’s come a long way from that final start of 2016 against the Royals when he gave up four runs and five hits and didn’t record an out.

But he took it farther back than that.

“I don’t mean this with any arrogance, but I’m not surprised,” he said of his steady growth. “When you see something and you see it clearly, you know it’s going to happen someday. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. There are lots of things I see that I believe will happen with all my heart.

“But when you take the emotion out of it and you hear the words, that you will have this type of honor bestowed on you – yeah, it’s crazy to think in 2012 I was pitching out of the pen at Oregon State. It’s crazy to a lot of people when you see that progress, but to me, it’s not surprising. I’m just thankful.”

From left, Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd, pitching coach Rick Anderson and catcher Austin Romine walk in from the bullpen at Detroit Tigers Summer Camp on Sunday.

As he’s shown throughout this camp, Boyd has taken his game to another level. Last year, he featured one of the nastiest sliders in baseball. Opponents hit .189 off it with a 43.6-percent swing-and-miss rate. But, he became too reliant on it and for a long stretch became a two-pitch pitcher. And that predictability led to him allowing an American League-high 39 home runs.

He’s worked to re-incorporate his curve and change-up into the mix, as well as polishing up the command on his four-seam fastball, which accounted for 25 of the home runs.

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“By no means am I done,” Boyd said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I know what I’m going to do when I take the ball, but I don’t know what’s going to happen. I know what I expect of myself, but nothing is guaranteed. My career is a testament to that – nothing is guaranteed.

“Everyone wants to put a ceiling on you, but you are in control of how much you put in that bank every single day. And you don’t know what the compound effect is going to be day to day or year to year.”

Of course, part of the fun of starting the season in Cincinnati is facing old friend Nick Castellanos, who signed a four-year, $64 million contract with Reds last winter.

"Oh man, I've seen Nick do so many things," Boyd said. "He's such a talented hitter. I might have to bounce something up there. I've seen him hit every kind of pitch out of the yard. It'll be fun to go head-to-head against him.

"I'm happy for him. He's got a spot over there, though it'll be weird seeing him in a different uniform."

Conversely, Castellanos might not fully recognize the team he sees wearing the Olde English D, either. It might be a little meaner and scrappier than the one he was traded away from last July.

"We've learned a lot from these last few years," Boyd said. "We're tired of getting our teeth kicked in. It's happened a lot and it's not fun. We have a lot of guys that teams have given up on who are here now making a name for themselves, guys who have been cast aside.

"We've got a bunch of junkyard dogs and we're ready to go. We don't know what's going to happen but we're hungry and we're ready to go compete."

Twitter @cmccosky