Detroit Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd spoke in an uncanny voice. His facial expressions showed remorse. And he continued to repeat a mantra that returns every five days, almost as if he is now trying to convince himself rather than just the world.
“I will be better,” he said after Wednesday’s game.
He thought back to when Willi Castro put the Tigers ahead, 5-3, in his season debut with a two-run home run in the fourth inning. But Boyd blew the budding infielder’s big moment by allowing four runs in fifth inning — giving the Chicago White Sox a 7-5 victory against the Tigers (9-7) at Comerica Park.
In four starts and 19⅓ innings this season, Boyd has a 10.24 ERA, 1.965 WHIP, 18 strikeouts, eight walks and 22 earned runs.
On Wednesday, Boyd’s problems began in a 10-pitch battle against leadoff hitter Tim Anderson in the first inning. When Boyd delivered a 79 mph slider, his opponent turned on it for a home run. The next batter, Eloy Jimenez, sent a 93 mph fastball to the right-field seats.
[ Matthew Boyd is struggling, but confident he knows how to fix it ]
But he followed those two homers by striking out Chicago’s best right-handed power hitters — Jose Abreu and Edwin Encarnacion — on perfectly executed 81 mph sliders. They went down swinging.
For a brief moment, he resembled the Boyd from before the All-Star break last season, owning a 3.87 ERA, 1.121 WHIP, 142 strikeouts and just 20 walks in 107 innings. Most of the time, however, Boyd looks like his 2019 second-half version — a 5.51 ERA and 1.379 WHIP.
Lately, he has pitched even worse.
“He shows he’s a very good pitcher,” catcher Grayson Greiner said. “He’s proven that, and I think he’ll tell you he hasn’t been the same guy as last year. If there’s anybody that can overcome this type of adversity, it’s definitely Matt Boyd.
“Last year, he did a really good job with his slider when he’s got two strikes, putting it in the dirt and getting swings over the top. Right now, it’s just flattening out, and they are ending up more around the shins.”
[ Boyd struggled yet again. Here’s what his setback means for the Tigers ]
The inconsistencies are too obvious to miss. Take away the at-bats against Anderson and Jimenez in the first, and Boyd only gives up one run (in the third inning) on two hits entering the fifth.
The problem, Boyd said, came when he began chasing metrics in spring training. The vertical break was “really good” on his pitches before COVID-19 paused baseball’s routine. That came from staying true to his delivery and repeating it.
Although, that’s where the selfish desire for more crept in.
“It took me out of my game,” said Boyd. “It’s not vertical break or anything like that. That’s not the issue. It’s me that I lost. I stepped away from what brought me success — staying within myself and attacking a pitch at a time.”
He came back out in the fifth inning to face the top of the order. While he struck out Jimenez on a nasty 81 mph slider in the dirt, Anderson and Abreu reached, as well as Encarnacion to load the bases with one out. Then ex-teammate James McCann lined out to shortstop Niko Goodrum, who nearly doubled up Abreu at second base.
Luis Robert got a first-pitch 80 mph slider that hung near the bottom of the zone. He cleared the bases with a three-RBI double to right field for a 6-5 lead. Nomar Mazara drove in Robert three pitches later on a 79 mph slider right down the middle.
“I thought it was a pretty good slider (to Robert),” Boyd said. “The subsequent slider to Mazara was not a good slider. So whether it’s expanding the zone or doing something different there, he just hit my pitch. Hopefully, you know, I’d like to not be in that situation. That’s on me.”
[ Matthew Boyd doomed by lack of adjustments: ‘This game’s on me’ ]
Boyd claims he’s taking a step forward with every outing, but he went from making it through five innings (against the Reds and Royals) to being unable to do so Wednesday. In his last two outings, he lost all control with two outs in the fourth.
“We scored four runs and Matty needed to go out there and give a shutdown inning,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He couldn’t get through the inning, and he didn’t finish off the hitter. Had a couple of times to finish him off, and pitches got away from him.”
And for the fourth time this season, Boyd walked off the field, joined a postgame Zoom call and vowed to improve.
“I promise everybody out there, including my team, I will be better from this,” Boyd said. “I’m going to continue to work. I’m not giving up on anything. What you’re seeing is a product of just understanding what my game is, what has brought me success and who I am as a pitcher.
“It’s not sitting there, throwing darts at the wall (and) seeing what works. It’s very guided, very methodical. We know how we’re going about this.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.