Like trusty gloves, Boyd breaking in 1st full season since ’19

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — Buried within the top shelf of Matthew Boyd’s clubhouse stall at Comerica Park is a glove collection more fitting for a super-utility player than a starting pitcher. The Tigers’ left-hander has six versions of the same glove. 

“You get two every year,” said Boyd, who has worked with the same Wilson glove representative, Ryan Smith, for years. “I’ve given a lot away; you don’t need them all. But the ones that I like, I like to keep.”

Some are decorative, like one with a snakeskin design that he’ll play catch with. Others have special color schemes, like the teal glove from last year in Seattle. Some are functional, like one he has with water-resistant skin for bad weather. He has a backup glove that is nearly game ready.

Even with all those gloves, he has a couple of plain game gloves that he has used for years, one since 2018. They’re nearly breaking down, but they’re broken-in, comfortable and reliable. He saves them just for games to keep them around for as long as he can.

In some ways, Boyd’s season has been like the breaking-in of a glove. After missing much of last season rehabbing from elbow surgery, and a good portion of the 2021 season dealing with the elbow issues that led to surgery, and pitching in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he hasn’t had a full season as a starter since 2019, when he was a borderline All-Star candidate in June before home runs doomed him in the second half.

Wednesday afternoon’s 9-4 win over the Royals marked his 14th start of the season, one off his 2021 total. He hasn’t topped 15 starts in a season since 2019. As he worked through the Royals’ order and bounced back from early damage, he showed an ability to adjust that he has lacked at times, and an effective changeup that allowed him to make the switch.

His arsenal is getting worn in, and it’s not just the fastball and slider these days.

Four of Kansas City’s first eight batters recorded hits, including backup catcher Freddy Fermin’s two-run double off the left-field fence off a hanging slider. From there, Boyd retired 14 of his final 15 batters, six by strikeout. Instead of leaning on his fastball and mixing in a secondary pitch, he started mixing fastball, slider and changeup and becoming less predictable. More importantly, he began working ahead in counts with more regularity.

“I felt like he threw a ton of offspeed pitches in situations where guys were trying to jump fastball,” said Royals leadoff hitter Nick Pratto, whose second-inning strikeout ended his team’s damage at two runs. “Especially a couple times through the order, he just made a good adjustment. And we didn’t.”

The adjustments were largely based on hitters’ reactions.

“Started off throwing a good amount of fastballs,” Pratto said. “Guys showed they were on it. He adjusted.”

Said Boyd: “I’m not going to run up 98 [miles per hour] where I can just sit there and ride the heater. My game is going to be keeping guys off-balance.”

Add in the sinker and curveball, and Boyd threw five different pitches for called strikes Wednesday, according to Statcast. But his 14 swinging strikes came almost equally from his fastball, slider and changeup.

“He really had the ability to throw behind in the count offspeed and finish pitches offspeed,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Changeup was nasty today, so I think that alone was a good sign.”

Throwing strikes has been a key point for Boyd throughout June. With no walks and seven strikeouts over six innings Wednesday, he has a 27-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio through four June starts, despite a 4.91 ERA. By comparison, he had four or more walks in three of his first 10 starts this year.

“He definitely looks more comfortable, starting to get spread out, starting to get some innings under his belt,” said Eric Haase, whose two-run double in the bottom of the second helped nullify the Royals’ scoring. “If he makes a bad pitch and gives up hits, he’s able to come back out and make the adjustment, and that’s been huge.”

Boyd will get a tougher test next week against a Texas lineup that hit him for five runs on five hits in six innings last month in Detroit. The Rangers pummeled his fastball that day, even though he threw more sliders. An effective changeup could be a big help. Like a broken-in glove, it could be coming around.

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