Detroit Tigers SP Matthew Boyd promising to focus on this trait after injury-derailed 2020

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Matthew Boyd’s 2020 season for the Detroit Tigers was a disaster. His 6.71 ERA was the worst since his rookie campaign six years ago and he paced the big leagues with 45 earned runs and 15 homers allowed.

Certainly, the 29-year-old’s performance wasn’t what the Tigers expected when they refused to trade him amid the best stretch of his career in 2019. Not to mention, a hamstring injury he dealt with through summer camp last July forced him to tweak his mechanics on the fly.

“Physically, it affected me in terms of being able to repeat my delivery,” Boyd said Monday. “There was no pain for the majority of the year, but my mechanics moved and adapted to where I wasn’t able to do the same things on the mound that I used to.”

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It’s not surprising he didn’t make his injury public during the season. Boyd could have gone to the injured list, but with the shortened schedule, he didn’t want to risk missing any of his 12 starts.

A second injury, plantar fasciitis in his left foot, popped up over his final few starts.

“Even when there are little nicks and dings throughout the season, (I need) to be anchored in what I do,” Boyd said. “And to know, ‘OK, well, I can adjust and get back to what I want to do.’ That way, the output can be the same.”

[ Tigers’ Matthew Boyd didn’t meet expectations. Why he now has a ‘clear direction’ ]

Finding focus

The mental ramifications of the injuries might have been more detrimental to Boyd than the physical issues.

“If you’re not 100% focused on the hitter, and there’s some percentage before you release the ball that’s focused on something else, there needs to be regrouping,” Boyd said. “Understanding why that hesitation is there. Understanding why you’re not fully attacking. There were times last year where that probably was the circumstance.”

[ Tigers’ Matthew Boyd won’t judge new manager AJ Hinch for past mistakes ]

His lack of focus is a reminder of his human nature; a hamstring injury, for example, can distract from the task in the batter’s box. 

Sometimes, the motions of his body preoccupied him. Other times he was overthinking his pitch selection. Either way, his game suffered.

“That’s unacceptable, but I learned from it,” Boyd said. “You got to give yourself grace in that. I know I got caught up in that, and I need to step back and say, ‘I’m better than that.’ That’s not what I’ve promised myself I’m going to do. That’s not what I anybody else I’m going to do.

“I can’t control the results, but I can promise I’m going to be 100% attacking that hitter.”

Norris: ‘I want to be a starter’

Boyd’s teammate, left-hander Daniel Norris, put together a much stronger 2020 season. He made 13 of his 14 appearances out of the bullpen, recording a combined 3.25 ERA, 28 strikeouts and seven walks.

His role for 2021 remains unclear, but new manager AJ Hinch seems prepared to allow him to compete for a spot in the rotation throughout spring training.

[ How Tigers’ Daniel Norris, Tyler Alexander fit into ‘creative’ 2021 plans ]

“We chatted about it briefly,” Norris said Monday. “He asked me what I wanted to do. I told him, ‘I’ve always been a starter. I want to be a starter.’ Having said that, I’ll do whatever. I’m preparing as a starter. If I end up in the bullpen, it’s easier to backtrack instead of having to ramp up. I’m ready to start. I’m ready to do whatever I need to do to help us win.”

As a starter across his seven-year career, Norris has a 4.50 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 360 strikeouts and 134 walks in 400 innings. Serving as a reliever, the 27-year-old owns a 4.17 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 50 strikeouts and 20 walks in 54 innings.

Norris wants to mix a curveball into his repertoire, with help from new pitching coach Chris Fetter, if he gets the chance to start games. Coming out of the bullpen, he primarily uses his fastball, slider and changeup.

[ Why Tigers’ Daniel Norris thinks Chris Fetter is ‘incredible’ ]

Still, his top priority this winter is altering his fastball spin.

“Just getting more backspin on it,” Norris said. “Because my spin rate is good, but the way I spin it, it’s not as good as it could be. I’ve seen a lot of progress in that, which has been pretty exciting.”

Last season, Norris only allowed eight earned runs in 26 innings as a reliever, good for a 2.77 ERA.

“Obviously, everybody threw much fewer innings,” Norris said. “I started throwing earlier this (offseason), so I feel really good right now. As far as workload goes, if anything, I increased it. Right now, I’m up to 40 or so pitches in my bullpen.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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