Matthew Boyd knows the Detroit Tigers don’t always get to write the script.
He knows the 28-man roster could not chang what happened last weekend with the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. Neither could manager Ron Gardenhire or franchise front office leaders. They can’t force everyone to understand the importance of equality because that’s an individual choice to make.
But the Tigers were able to decide how to respond.
“With that, we responded accordingly,” Boyd said. “We just keep going. It was just time to play today.”
It was Boyd’s job to get the Tigers (15-16) back to baseball after games were boycotted Thursday and postponed Friday because of a league-wide protest and inclement weather, respectively, to force Saturday’s doubleheader. Commanding the resumption was a lot to ask of Boyd, who had allowed 27 runs and 39 hits in six starts.
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Yet Boyd did exactly what his team needed. He fired his best outing of the season — two runs (one earned), four hits, no walks and six strikeouts in six innings — to pace the Tigers to an 8-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins in Game 1 of the doubleheader, which Detroit swept.
Although, he isn’t going to call it a breakthrough performance. Not with a 7.27 ERA this season.
“You learn every time you throw,” Boyd said Saturday. “Every time you throw a pitch, it’s feedback. You take it for what it is. It’s really not good or bad, just something to learn from. That’s what we’ve done. It’s when you’re not in that mindset, and you start searching instead of learning, growing and having awareness of each situation is when things kind of spiral out of control.”
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For the first time this season, it’s nearly impossible to find a flaw in his performance, which began from commanding his fastball as catcher Austin Romine instructed. Of his 87 pitches, Boyd used his fastball 47% of the time, generating four swinging strikes and 10 called strikes. The pitch averaged 91.7 mph.
Setting the tone with his fastball, Boyd used his slider (21%), changeup (20%), sinker (9%) and even threw a few curveballs (3%). He typically relies on two pitches — fastball and slider — but has worked on integrating his changeup more often.
“The changeup was just a few alterations we made, just like the curveball,” Boyd said about changes he made in spring training. “There wasn’t any focus on one or the other. It’s just like, ‘Oh, this is another pitch we can make better, let’s go do it.’ It’s been good.”
Against the Twins, the changeup brought him six of his 13 swinging strikes.
In the first inning against Marwin Gonzalez, who struck out, Boyd threw two fastballs, one changeup, one slider and disposed of him on a 75 mph curveball. He didn’t plan to use a mix of pitches, but read the at-bat and count, and then showcased the newfound confidence in his secondary pitches.
“I’m a four-pitch pitcher,” Boyd said. “Doesn’t mean I can’t be a two-pitch pitcher, three-pitch pitcher some days. You got to roll with what’s working. But it’s nice to have that, keep guys off balance. … That changeup really allows you to control your barrels a little bit. Curveball helps another thing to pitch off of, slider is the same thing. Everything works off each other.”
Because of the seven-inning doubleheader, Gardenhire pulled Boyd after 87 pitches and six innings in favor of his bullpen, which slammed the door on the Twins for the team’s 14th win this season. But Boyd could’ve gone deeper had it been a nine-inning contest.
Gardenhire isn’t ready to say if Boyd, who was pegged as the organization’s ace when the season began in late July, has turned the corner.
“It’s all about consistency,” Gardenhire said. “He’s got to carry what he did this time into the next start and the next start. That’s kind of what he’s looking for. That’s what we’re looking for. Let him do two or three of those, and then I’ll tell him to take a right turn.”
As Boyd tries to regain what he delivered in the first half of last season, he has a lot on his mind, as do his teammates. They’ve told stories in the clubhouse about their tribulations and voiced their concerns about society’s present and future.
Those tough conversations are bringing the Tigers closer. Now one win away from a .500 record, the improved bond — and Boyd’s pitching — could be the catalyst for emergence in the playoff hunt.
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As long as the Tigers continue to respond.
“United, if you can sum it up in one word,” Boyd said. “Twenty-eight brothers standing arm in arm in there. It’s special what we have going. It’s special that we have guys that lead by example and lead by their actions.
“We have a team that truly cares about each other and cares about the intricacies of each other, too. It’s special.”
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. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content.