CLEVELAND -- Matthew Boyd is the first Tigers left-hander since Kenny Rogers in 2007 to throw six or more innings of one-run ball or better in his first two starts in a season. He has done so not by picking up his pitching, but by backing off.
Boyd's average velocity is down from last year, and moreso than the wintry weather in which he has pitched would explain. His fastball, which averaged 92 mph last year, is averaging 89 according to Statcast™. His two-seamer and changeup are also down about three mph.
The biggest difference, however, is his slider, an average 86-mph pitch last year. He's throwing a slower version now, averaging 80 mph. Clearly, it's by design.
It's also a little more complicated than simply throwing slower. Within the average is a fairly big range between fastest and slowest. While Boyd's four-seam fastball averaged 89.5 mph Tuesday night, according to Statcast™, it ranged from 86.9 to 91.7 mph. His curveball was as slow as 71.2 mph and as hard as 78.9. His slider ranged from 77.7 to 83.3.
"Adding and subtracting is something I was working on all spring," Boyd said. "We have a game plan on what we're trying to do, and I will take each guy a little bit [different]."
Part of it continues the adjustments he put in down the stretch last season, resulting in an outstanding September that included his no-hit bid against the White Sox. Part of it, too, is something the new coaching staff -- including pitching coach Chris Bosio -- has been working on with him since camp.
There's a value for that unpredictability in an era when more hitters are trying to lift the ball and drive home runs, something that was a bugaboo for Boyd early in his big league career. Manager Ron Gardenhire believes there's a value for it in any era.
"The hitter's job is to time a pitcher," Gardenhire said. "What's a pitcher's job? To mess up his timing. That will never, ever change. That's Baseball 101. It's always going to be that way. So changing speeds and putting a little movement on it, a slower curveball and then a harder curveball, direct one that bounces at the feet, it's all about messing up the hitter's timing. That's what you saw Boyd do. And that's pitching."
Gardy giving youngsters a shot
The Tigers are looking toward the future as they compete in each game. That much is clear, not just in the struggles at the plate but in the in-game decisions.
When the current series began Monday, Gardenhire made it clear he was going to get everybody a start at some point during the four-game set. That included rookie outfielder Victor Reyes, a Rule 5 Draft pick who must remain on the 25-man roster or disabled list all season, or be offered back to his former club. Reyes' start in left field Tuesday was his second in the season's first 10 games.
Gardenhire stuck with Reyes through the low-scoring battle against the Indians. It paid off the seventh inning, when Reyes' ground ball through the right side eluded second baseman Jason Kipnis for Reyes' first Major League hit, a leadoff single that put the eventual tying run on base.
It produced lesser results in the ninth inning, when Reyes stepped to the plate with one out against Cody Allen. The Cleveland closer struck him out on four fastballs, with Reyes swinging at all of them and missing on three.
Given the reverse splits for Allen's career -- left-handed hitters hit just .195 with a .584 OPS against him -- the switch-hitting Reyes was in a tough matchup compared with Michael Mahtook and John Hicks, two more experienced right-handed hitters on the bench. But it wasn't so much an in-game decision as it was a lesson for the future with a 23-year-old who hadn't appeared in a game above the Double-A level until this year.
"I want to see that kid play," Gardenhire said after the game. "I want to see him play in those situations. I think he was fine up there. That's a good pitcher. He's going to have to see some of those guys. And you know what? He'll be better off for it down the road and he'll calm down a little bit. He took some healthy swings. He's not afraid."
• Bosio missed his second consecutive game Wednesday as he deals with an undisclosed medical issue. He remains in Cleveland undergoing tests, according to Gardenhire.
• Wednesday marked the 18th anniversary of the first Tigers game at Comerica Park.