LAKELAND, Fla. — The first-pitch curveball Matthew Boyd flipped over the plate Tuesday on Cardinals top prospect Jordan Walker was slow enough that it could have drawn dirty looks on Interstate 4 nearby.
“If you look over my years, nobody really swings at a first-pitch curveball from me. It’s a free strike,” Boyd explained afterwards. “So if I can go out there and throw that to start off an at-bat, land a strike, it really saves everything else. It’s a big pitch to set up an at-bat.”
Boyd’s second-pitch changeup sent Walker flailing into an 0-2 hole as it dove toward the outside corner. It set up the 93 mph high fastball, but Walker didn’t bite. Instead, he offered at the 1-2 changeup just below the zone, sending a routine grounder to third base.
It was one of just two outs in play Boyd recorded over his three innings. The other seven outs were by strikeout, including the previous two outs in the inning on sliders for called third strikes. The only damage was a Nolan Gorman homer off a hanging slider.
Boyd fanned three more batters swinging in the second — one each by fastball, changeup and slider — then two more in the third. He not only threw all four pitches to Cardinals prospect Moises Gomez, he threw them to different parts of the strike zone, setting up his slider.
“The plan was to just go use it all and attack,” Boyd said. “We went out there and we wanted to attack the zone and use everything. It was a good day.”
Considering how Boyd struggled to move beyond his fastball-slider mix just a few years ago, it’s quite good. If he can carry this into the regular season, it’ll be great.
Boyd induced swings and misses on nine of his 43 pitches — three each on his fastball, slider and changeup. His curveball drew three called strikes.
“He used every one of his pitches, and used them effectively,” manager A.J. Hinch said after the Tigers’ 16-3 win. “Maybe one misfire in an entire three-inning outing. That’s a pretty good day.”
This, Boyd says, is what he was looking to do for the last couple years before flexor tendon surgery in 2021. He now has the tools and the health to do it.
“That was the plan, a huge reason for me wanting to come here,” Boyd said. “That was the plan [Tigers president of baseball operations] Scott [Harris] and the pitching department laid out for me in San Francisco. That’s what [Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter] was trying to do with me here, to a degree. I just didn’t have the runway to do it with what was going on health-wise, so I spent the rehab doing that.
“It’s nice to see all that work pay off, and I’m grateful to all the people that put the time into me to get me back to that.
“In 2020 and ’21, I was trying to adjust,” he said. “I gave up a lot of home runs in ’19. I was asking, ‘What are the things I can do different?’ One of the things was to add a changeup.”
Boyd led the league in home runs allowed in 2020, and gave up more than all but one pitcher (Mike Leake) in 2019. One way to address that was by revamping a changeup. He had one when the Tigers acquired him in 2015, but got away from it when his slider became his primary out pitch. He threw the changeup with different wrist action than his slider, fastball and curveball, so it was tougher to hide.
“Not only is it physically different for my arm, but it’s hard to repeat something differently when you’re doing three [other] pitches with one way,” he said. “So I throw a changeup just like a slider now, but using essentially the smooth part of the baseball to create no drag on one side, but seam is on the other side. And because of that, I get more movement than I did before, but the pattern of how my wrist is moving is like the other pitches. So it allows for the other pitches to be more consistent.”
It’s known as seam-shifted wake. When he unleashed the pitch in small quantities during his September stint in Seattle’s bullpen last year, it was devastating. Now, he wants to use it more as a starter. So far, the results have him encouraged.
“I have to try to temper myself in Spring Training,” he smiled.