With a trusty slider back in the tool box, Tigers’ Boyd stayed in command vs. Cards

Detroit News

St. Louis – We need to dive back into the Tigers’ nail-biting 5-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals Friday night. Just one more time.

There was so much drama late in the game, one pivot point early on got overlooked.

It happened in a very messy fourth inning. Messy, but because of some stout work by Tigers starter Matthew Boyd, it wasn’t fatal.

Leading 2-1, Boyd gave up a leadoff double to Paul Goldschmidt. No crime there. The guy is the reigning National League MVP. The next hitter, Willson Contreras, hit a pop-up behind second. Andy Ibanez, playing right field for the first time in his pro career, appeared to call off second baseman Jonathan Schoop. But he couldn’t make the catch.

The play was further muffed when Schoop picked the ball up and threw to third. He had no chance to get Goldschmidt and his throw allowed Contreras to advance to second.

“Just miscommunication on a routine play,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “That’s more on us as coaches than the players because everybody was out of position. But we overcame it.”

Both of those runs scored without a hit. Boyd, effectively dousing any St. Louis momentum, induced two ground balls. Nolan Arenado’s plated Goldschmidt and sent Contreras to third. Dylan Carlson followed with a ground ball up the middle.

Schoop fielded it on the shortstop side of the base and, instead of taking the sure out at first, fired home. Contreras barely beat the throw and the Cardinals took a 3-2 lead, but Hinch said it was the correct play.

“We were playing in,” Hinch said. “Which is me telling the players that I want the play to be at home. The play took Jonathan to the other side of the bag, but he’s probably the only second baseman in the big leagues who has the opportunity to make that play.”

It was a calculated risk. An aggressive play to keep the score tied. Schoop has one of the strongest infield arms in the game and Contreras, a catcher, is not a speedster by any stretch.

“When it’s that close, I certainly want our players to play aggressively,” Hinch said. “Otherwise, I would’ve just played back and not take the risk that a ground ball could get through the infield.”

It turned out to be a big moment in the game, mostly because Boyd bowed his neck at that point and shut things down. He struck out the side in the fifth and then got Goldschmidt to lead off the sixth. It was the 800th strikeout of his career.

“You just try to replicate good reps,” said Boyd, who earned a quality start and a win for his efforts. “I missed down and in with a change-up to Goldschmidt (in the fourth) and that’s a pitch he handles well. I came back (in the sixth) and executed a change-up away and was able to get him out.

“It was good. The pitch count (87) wasn’t fully taxed, I don’t feel. And Rog (catcher Jake Rogers) called a great game. He really guided me through it. It was fun. I hadn’t thrown to him in a couple of years.”

Boyd was coming off a frustrating start against the Orioles. It was like he bled out four runs from paper-cut singles and then gave up a two-run homer. The stat line didn’t fully reflect the quality of his stuff.

He came into his start Friday with some good secondary numbers.

His 27.3% hard-hit rate was the second lowest in the American League. Teammate Eduardo Rodriguez was third (27.6%). The spin rate on his rejuvenated four-seam fastball (2,502 rpm) ranks in the top 7 percentile in baseball and it was holding hitters to a .224 batting average with a 30% whiff rate.

His chase rate and whiff rate were both in the upper 23 percentile.

And yet, his ERA was 5.47.

“You can dive into the nitty gritty of it, but the one thing that might get looked over is some things I’m dealing with just from not starting in over a year,” Boyd said. “Everything is constantly a work in progress. There’s things mechanically that I’ve been working through and sometimes those things will affect certain pitches.”

Like his slider. Until Friday, it hadn’t been the same elite slider he’s always had. It wasn’t horrible, mind you. Hitters were 6 for 20 on it. But the telltale stat was the low 18.5% whiff rate. In 2020, he was getting swing and miss at a 39% clip, 43.6% in 2019.

“We are attacking that,” Boyd said. “The whole repertoire will be better once we get everything ironed out.”

The slider was back on Friday. He threw 24 of them, got three whiffs and seven called strikes. The four that were put in play were softly struck (average exit velocity was 85 mph). For the first time this season, he had all four pitches working.

Comical to think about now, but on Thursday, Boyd was asked if he ever considered shortening his repertoire and focusing more on the pitches that were working best.

“I would counter that by saying there’s a value in being able to tailor a game plan to a specific team when you have four good weapons to use,” he said. “I have three off-speed pitches that all work, that all have different purposes, all can attack hitters different ways.

“I have that benefit. Why would I limit myself?”

Why, indeed.

Twitter@cmccosky

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