Detroit Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd returned to the Comerica Park mound for the first time since June 8, back from left arm discomfort that forced him out of his June 14 start in Kansas City and sent him to the injured list.
Facing the Toronto Blue Jays, Boyd flashed positives and negatives — five strikeouts and two home runs allowed — in the Tigers’ 2-1 loss in Sunday’s series finale at Comerica Park. The Tigers (62-69) dropped two of three games in Detroit, one weekend after taking two of three from the Blue Jays in Toronto.
“This is the most he’s had to exert, the energy, the adrenaline, the higher pitch count, specifically in the first inning,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “He had two pitches he didn’t execute. … But it’s great to see Matt Boyd on the mound and back with us.”
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In Boyd’s final rehab assignment start with Triple-A Toledo, the 30-year-old completed 4⅓ scoreless innings and tossed 56 pitches. Back in the big leagues, Boyd needed 71 pitches (44 strikes) to complete four innings but didn’t return for the fifth.
“We were very conservative with him not sending him out for the fifth,” Hinch said. “We wanted to keep him somewhere in that 70-75 range because we brought him back after only four innings in Toledo. I’m very proud of him.”
Boyd began his outing with authority, striking out Blue Jays leadoff hitter Marcus Semien with a two-seam fastball. Two pitches later, Bo Bichette — one of Toronto’s many young talents — put the veteran Boyd behind with one swing.
Bichette drilled Boyd’s two-seamer 401 feet and over the wall in right-center field for a 1-0 lead. The pressure continued in the first inning, as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. singled and Alejandro Kirk drew a two-out walk. Further damage was eluded when Boyd struck out Lourdes Gurriel Jr. with a full-count changeup.
He tossed 27 pitches in the first inning.
“Those first two or three innings, I lacked rhythm and tempo within my delivery,” Boyd said. “I was a little erratic with all my pitches. We made pitches when we needed to and changed speeds. The fourth inning, we started to sync up the right way. More than anything, it was a good step.”
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The Blue Jays jumped ahead 2-0 in the fourth inning, thanks to Kevin Smith’s first MLB home run. He drove a sinker to left-center with two outs. Boyd then struck out Reese McGuire on three pitches to finish his outing.
“I wanted to go in to Bichette,” Boyd said. “I missed up and away. To Smith, I was trying to go up and in, then I just left it down and in. Just a few inches lower than where I wanted it, which allowed him with his barrel path to get to it. I knew what I wanted to do with both pitches, I just missed with them.”
Between the top and bottom of the fifth, there was a 25-minute rain delay.
To help produce five strikeouts, Boyd logged 11 swings and misses with one sinker, five changeups, two sliders and three four-seam fastballs.
Better than Boyd
Blue Jays starter Jose Berrios — acquired from the Minnesota Twins for a pair of prospects at the trade deadline — kept the Tigers from scoring until he reached two outs in the sixth inning. He tossed seven innings of one-run ball (unearned) on six hits, striking out 11 without a walk.
The Tigers found scoring opportunities in the fourth and fifth innings, but Berrios executed to wiggle out of jams in both frames. It wasn’t until the sixth that the Tigers plated a run.
“He’s talented,” Hinch said. “His ball looked like it was moving quite a bit. The guys were coming back from the plate talking about his front-door two-seamer to lefties. He’s always had the good breaking ball. When he commands it, he really makes it tough. … He’s a good pitcher. That’s why they traded for him at the deadline.”
In the fourth, Bichette’s throwing error sent the ball above a leaping Guerrero at first base. His mistake allowed Miguel Cabrera to reach safely with two outs. The next batter, Jeimer Candelario, slapped a single into right field.
With two on and two outs, Harold Castro flied out to left field.
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The Tigers had two outs in the fifth inning when Victor Reyes doubled to right-center field. Before Reyes entered into scoring position, Willi Castro (sinker, looking) and Dustin Garneau (curveball, swinging) struck out. Matched up with left-handed hitter Akil Baddoo, Berrios froze him with an inside sinker for the third out.
Reyes finished 2-for-3 against Berrios with a single, double and strikeout.
The lone run came in the sixth inning, when Jonathan Schoop reached on a fielding error by Smith at third base. Robbie Grossman followed with a 105-foot double that deflected off Guerrero at first base.
The Tigers had two runners in scoring position for Cabrera, who clanked a weak bouncer back to Berrios. The pitcher turned and threw to his second baseman, and Grossman was tagged out retreating to the bag. Candelario struck out for the second out.
Harold Castro, though, didn’t waste his third clash with Berrios, tagging a changeup through the hole and into right field. His single scored Schoop to trim the Blue Jays’ lead to 2-1.
“He’s got a calm heartbeat,” Hinch said. “He knows what his strengths are. I know some of the underlying numbers and how we evaluate different hitters, you can knock him on a few things. You can’t knock the fact that he’s a good hitter and puts up good at-bats.
“He doesn’t change his adrenaline level from the first-inning at-bat when I start him to the ninth-inning at-bat when I pinch-hit him. I know the consistency that he’s going to bring, and he’s a dangerous hitter in his own way.”
Berrios pitched a scoreless seventh to complete his outing. Of his 97 pitches, 74 went for strikes.
Stranding bases loaded
Righty reliever Jose Cisnero loaded the bases in the seventh: Semien (single), Bichette (single) and Guerrero (walk). Still searching for an out, pitching coach Chris Fetter trotted to the mound to talk with Cisnero before Teoscar Hernandez stepped to the plate.
Hernandez flied out to right, shallow enough to keep Semien from scoring.
Kirk grounded into a double play — from second baseman Willi Castro to shortstop Harold Castro to first baseman Schoop — to end the seventh inning. All three players made spectacular plays, including a sharp pick from Schoop.
“That was big,” Hinch said. “We had to keep that game close. Our only real chance is if we can control that inning with the bases loaded. … When we ended that inning at the same score that we started that inning, it felt like momentum shifted for us.
“We just couldn’t quite capitalize on it.”
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Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.