Boyd's crisp start the silver lining in Tigers' defeat

June 4th, 2023

CHICAGO -- took the mound at Guaranteed Rate Field on Sunday with a 1-8 record and a 6.43 ERA for his career at the ballpark. He faced the White Sox with a 7.88 ERA over their last six meetings since the summer of 2019. His first pitch Sunday resulted in a base hit from old nemesis Tim Anderson, who improved to 17-for-44 against him with the single.

For Boyd to settle down from there with five innings of two-hit ball and nine strikeouts was quite the changeup from the usual script. So was Boyd’s actual changeup.

After a nightmarish weekend series that ended with the Tigers getting swept out of town on a Jake Burger walk-off grand slam off reigning AL Reliever of the Month , the Tigers will take any consolation they can get. Facing a righty-heavy lineup that has historically handled him well, Boyd -- who entered the day with a 5.96 ERA -- responded with his best outing of the season, including his highest strikeout total since August 2020 and his best collection of pitches since his return to Detroit.

“It’s encouraging,” Boyd said after Sunday’s 6-2 loss, Detroit’s second consecutive walk-off defeat. “Contrary to the stats, I actually enjoy pitching here. Definitely skewed early on in my career, getting my teeth kicked in a little bit here and there. It’s a tough lineup, a very good lineup, and it’s always fun to take on a challenge like that.”

If he can build off of that, the Tigers have a better chance of holding their rotation together without ace . Now, they just need more offensive support from a lineup that badly misses , especially going into Philadelphia for a three-game series against the defending National League champion Phillies.

“Our pitchers, our starters especially, are keeping us in ball games, giving us a lot of great opportunities to win. And now, it’s our turn to return the favor,” said , whose two-run homer off Michael Kopech not only accounted for all of the Tigers’ scoring Sunday but marked their first RBIs since Wednesday.

While Boyd continued to center his game around his fastball, with his slider as his main secondary pitch, he found success with his full arsenal, which kept White Sox hitters off-balance. His 15 changeups produced four misses out of eight swings, including strikeouts of Clint Frazier and Romy Gonzalez, two of his five strikeouts in his first trip through Chicago’s lineup. His curveball produced a key strikeout of Andrew Vaughn after an Eloy Jiménez RBI single put the White Sox on the scoreboard.

This is more in line with what Boyd’s metrics suggest: His swing-and-miss rate ranks in the top 20 percent of Major League pitchers according to Statcast. His fastball spin rate ranks in the top eight percent this season and was slightly up Sunday, helping him draw eight of his 15 swinging strikes.

“He mixed all his pitches well,” catcher said. “He got his fastball at the top of the zone, which plays. We worked off that all day. He was beating guys up there and getting slider and curveball in the dirt late and using his changeup at really good times and in really good positions. All around, it was fun catching him.”

Boyd had a chance for his first double-digit strikeout game since 2019 after fanning Elvis Andrus to end the fifth inning and preserve a 2-1 lead. But with the top of the White Sox order looming in the sixth, beginning with Anderson, and Boyd’s struggles this season when going through a lineup for the third time in a game -- .303 average, 1.016 OPS -- manager A.J. Hinch decided to go to the bullpen. retired Anderson and Burger before back-to-back two-out singles and a four-pitch walk set up ’s game-tying single.

“This was the most difficult matchup [Boyd's] had in the last handful of starts,” Hinch said. “We’ve seen it go both ways, and I was going to make sure that he finished the game in a good place before the top of the order came in. Vest comes in, gets two quick outs and you end up with the bases loaded there with a walk involved.

“We need to do more offensively. You’re not going to win that game, 2-1, very often. But Matthew did a great job.”