A new Boyd embarks on second chapter with Tigers

'This is a better team than when I played here, and it’s only going to get better'

December 14th, 2022

DETROIT -- The voice, the optimism, the team-first mentality, the belief that his best baseball is ahead, it all sounded familiar as talked on a Zoom call with reporters about his return to the Tigers. For a minute, it was like he had never left.

“I believe this team is good,” Boyd said Wednesday following the official announcement of his one-year contract. “This is a better team than when I played here, and it’s only going to get better. And I just believe that with opportunity, everyone can grow. If we all can grow just a little bit, get better in different facets of our game, pull the rope in the same direction -- the opportunity to be a part of that was exciting to me. I’m really grateful it worked out and excited to wear the Old English D again.”

That sounds like the Matthew Boyd that Tigers fans remember from 2015-21. The pitcher, however, is different in ’22. He went through the agonizing process of rehabbing from major surgery, dealing with setbacks, getting traded and returning in a bullpen role. He also experienced the glory of making his postseason debut for his hometown Mariners.

That experience is vital, and it’s a big reason why he’s back. The Tigers didn’t sign him looking to “run it back” with their old core pieces. They were looking for a mentor as much as a pitcher, and Boyd fit both.

“When it came to adding a starter to our rotation,” Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris said, “we focused on two main priorities: First, we wanted to find someone who could mentor the young pitchers that we have in the big leagues and that are coming through our system. Clubhouse chemistry is going to be really important to us moving forward, and we feel like Matt’s personality and his leadership ability will be additive to the culture that we’re trying to build here in Detroit.

“I think the second priority was we wanted to find someone with significant upside and who gives us a chance to get off to a fast start in 2023. Matt is not the same pitcher that he was when he was here in Detroit.”

As familiar as he sounded to Tigers fans, he sounded familiar to Harris, too. After all, it was Harris who signed Boyd for the Giants last offseason coming off flexor tendon surgery in his throwing elbow. Harris recruited him with a plan not just to get him back to pitching, but to make him a better pitcher than he was before surgery. The Giants and Harris traded him to Seattle at the Deadline, before he suited up for San Francisco, but Boyd said the lessons were vital for him.

“The plan that was laid out for me in San Francisco,” Boyd said, “and the reason I wanted to sign there was understanding their plan for me, understanding how I can not only get back to the 2019 version of myself, but grow off of that. …

“So when you see me, it’s going to be a four-pitch mix. It’s going to be a fastball playing at the top of the zone. It’s going to be a slider that I can throw for strikes and swing-and-miss. It’s going to be a changeup that’s different from the changeup I had here. I learned a changeup last year with the staff over there in San Francisco that’s different than anything I’ve ever thrown.”

Boyd only got to show his new mix in a limited sample, tossing 13 1/3 innings of relief for the Mariners in the final month of the season. But it resonated with Harris.

“There are a lot of things that I like about Matt’s game,” Harris said. “I think trying to distill it down to one main theme is: He pounds the zone, he misses bats. If you go back and watch any of his outings with Seattle, you’ll see some of that. I think if you go back and watch the outing against Detroit in Seattle, I think it was three shutout innings with five punchouts. The thing that really stuck out to me was he was going right after the hitters. I think he had 10 or 11 swings and misses across three different pitch types.

“If he can lock in that version of himself and keep the pressure on the hitters, he’s going to be really, really good this year.”