Boyle flashes potential, but results still a mixed bag

April 25th, 2024

NEW YORK -- When deciding who would round out their rotation as their fifth starter, the A’s opted for the high upside of , even as his bouts with command persisted toward the end of Spring Training.

Five starts into the season, Boyle has at times flashed the dazzling power fastball-slider combo that -- along with an impressive three-game stint in the Majors last season -- helped vault him up to No. 9 on the A’s Top 30 Prospects list. But command issues remain a troubling trend, continuing in Wednesday’s 7-3 loss to the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

Long counts and the inability to finish off hitters in several two-strike instances led to Boyle departing with 85 pitches after just three innings. He allowed two runs on three hits and four walks, marking the third time he’s issued four free passes in a start this season.

“It was a gritty outing,” Boyle said. “I just ran out of pitches to keep going in the game. I got ahead of a lot of guys but then just wasted pitches and got myself in deep counts. It’s obviously not what I want.”

Boyle ran into some bad luck in the first. Following a one-out walk of Juan Soto, the 24-year-old righty appeared to strike out Aaron Judge on a perfectly spotted fastball on the outside corner.

As Judge began heading toward the dugout, third-base umpire John Tumpane called a balk on Boyle, which gave him new life. One pitch later, Boyle fired off a 97.3 mph fastball in almost the exact same spot. This time, the Yankees' slugger sent it over the short porch in right for a two-run blast.

“Poor pitch selection,” said Boyle. “[Judge] kind of just got a free pitch that he got to see. It is what it is. You learn from it and move on.”

The A’s don’t anticipate Boyle becoming a pitcher who consistently challenges for complete games. They know he relies on strikeouts, as he did Wednesday with his six punchouts bringing his season total to a team-leading 24 in 21 2/3 innings, and that naturally leads to high pitch counts early on. The issue lies in his high walk total (16), which along with being a strikeout pitcher leads to long innings, evidenced by his average of nearly 20 pitches (19.8) per inning.

These short outings can take a toll on the bullpen, as it did Wednesday with three A’s relievers combining to allow five more runs while covering the game’s final five innings.

“We’re still working on getting him in the zone more consistently,” manager Mark Kotsay said of Boyle. “He got ahead of hitters and then couldn’t finish. The four walks and pitch count hurt him. He’s a young arm. … At 85 pitches after three, it just isn’t worth risking the strain to put him back out in that fourth inning.”

Despite the early exit, Boyle noted some aspects of Wednesday’s outing he was proud of, mainly his sweeper. It’s a pitch he developed into his arsenal this offseason and has slowly been working into game action.

Facing a Yankees lineup stacked with righties allowed Boyle to throw the sweeper a bit more than usual. Of his 10 thrown on the night, he generated three whiffs and two called strikes with the sweeper, utilizing it as the putaway pitch on three of his six strikeouts.

“I was able to mix it in more often,” Boyle said of the sweeper. “Using it to both sides is going to be crucial. Just using everything I have to get these guys out. My stuff felt really good, it’s just a matter of execution.”

What Boyle has in his repertoire has proven plenty capable of getting Major League hitters in the past. He’s able to provide a great variance in speed with a fastball that maxed out at 98 mph on Wednesday and a slider that averaged 87.6. Now sitting with an undesirable 7.06 ERA, Boyle will look to harness that immense potential with more stabilized results.

“Plenty good and plenty bad,” Boyle said of his first five starts. “I’ll see if there’s anything to learn from the bad. Sometimes, you just have to keep going and stick to your process. Continue to get better at executing. I’m definitely grateful for all the ups and downs I’ve had so far, and I’m looking to keep building off it and move forward.”