Detroit Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd earned the Opening Day start from manager AJ Hinch because of his leadership.
He often pitches well when his team needs him most, stays positive through adversity and is a guiding, veteran, voice in the clubhouse. Even if last year’s performance wasn’t pleasant, even if injuries were a problem, Boyd mentored Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal.
The Tigers needed him Thursday against Cleveland Indians ace Shane Bieber, the reigning American League Cy Young winner. Boyd,30, delivered by pitching into the sixth inning and keeping his division rivals from scoring.
“My role is to go out there and attack every single pitch,” Boyd said Thursday. “Could be two pitches, could be 120, anything in between. Sometimes, those jobs change as the game goes on. We’re a summation of all parts. The more guys that do that, cool things are going to happen.”
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Against the Indians, Boyd’s job was to pitch into the second half of the game, produce a quality start and keep Cleveland’s offense at bay. He accomplished all three of those tasks, and the Tigers managed a 3-2 victory.
Boyd set an example of Hinch’s philosophy. The new manager knows team success will follow if the starting pitching sets the tone. Miguel Cabrera’s two-run homer in the first inning provided a jolt of energy, and so did Boyd’s consistency on the mound.
He kept the momentum rolling. The strikeout count (two) wasn’t overwhelming, but Boyd blanked the Indians each inning with a pitch-to-contact approach. He trusted his pitch selection and let his defense work behind him.
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“(The weather) makes it tougher sometimes to grip (the ball), so you just have to not overdo it,” Boyd said. “You’ve got stay within yourself and not try to get more. Just stay on the attack, knowing that what you got is good enough. That’s what we did today.”
In the fifth inning, Boyd walked Cesar Hernandez with two outs, putting runners on first and second with Jose Ramirez stepping into the batter’s box. Last year, Ramirez hit .292 with 17 homers and 46 RBIs in 58 games.
Assistant pitching coach Juan Nieves, filling in as pitching coach Chris Fetter remains out with COVID-19, went out to the mound to chat with Boyd.
“Once you open that bullpen door, you got to keep it open for the rest of the game, and you’re going to roll through a lot of guys,” Hinch said. “He earned that at-bat. It is tough, you don’t want Ramirez (a switch hitter) hitting right-handed very often. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, and the game presented it that way.”
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Boyd fired in a slider for a ball; he just missed the strike zone. Then, he got Ramirez to swing at a changeup. He flew out to right fielder Victor Reyes to end the inning.
“Big at-bat and he won it,” Hinch said. “I circled it on my card because it was kind of the at-bat of the game.”
Hinch sent him back out for the sixth inning. Boyd got back-to-back outs against Eddie Rosario and Franmil Reyes. Josh Naylor hit a first-pitch fastball for a single to end Boyd’s outing. Hinch called on lefty Daniel Norris to complete the scoreless inning.
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The Indians managed three hits and four walks over Boyd’s 5⅔ innings, but they were unable to score. He had two strikeouts. (Bieber gave up three runs on five hits and three walks, with 12 strikeouts, in six innings.)
“It would have been nice to have those back,” Boyd said about his four walks. “We’ll make adjustments and go forward.”
Although Boyd is bothered by the four walks, he pitched solid on Opening Day. Last season, he had a 6.71 ERA with an MLB-leading 45 earned runs and 15 home runs allowed. It was key for him to offer up a reminder of why he can be an effective starter.
Fundamentally, Boyd is always pleased when he gives the Tigers a chance to win, something he hasn’t done much in the past one-and-a-half years. But that mindset makes sense, considering it’s one of his most important jobs as a leader.
“We all got a role to play,” Boyd said.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.