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Boyd's impressive season ends with fizzle

September 28, 2019

CHICAGO -- About the best support Matthew Boyd received in his final start of the season was a pat on the back and a long talk from pitching coach Rick Anderson at the end. The Tigers left-hander had given up four runs in as many innings, but only half of

CHICAGO -- About the best support Matthew Boyd received in his final start of the season was a pat on the back and a long talk from pitching coach Rick Anderson at the end.

The Tigers left-hander had given up four runs in as many innings, but only half of them were earned. He kept the ball in the yard, avoiding what would’ve been the first season with 40 homers allowed by a Tigers pitcher in 33 years. However, he paid for a leadoff error at second base and a run-scoring passed ball in the third. Boyd threw the changeup that manager Ron Gardenhire and catcher Grayson Greiner have been wanting him to use more often, but had little feel early for the slider that has been his workhorse pitch all season.

Box score

When Gardenhire and Anderson decided enough was enough for Boyd after four innings, Anderson put his arm around Boyd and gave him a pep talk, followed shortly after by his skipper.

Boyd’s season ended with his second-shortest outing of the year in terms of pitch count, and tied for second shortest by innings, but the 7-1 loss to the White Sox shouldn’t spoil what was a big season of development for him.

“I would like to see a team behind him that catches the ball a little bit better,” Gardenhire said. “Because he’s a good pitcher, a strikeout pitcher too.”

His record and ERA won’t look much different than last year, and his hit and home run rates were both up. But with 238 strikeouts, most by a Tigers left-hander since Mickey Lolich in 1972, and the fourth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the American League -- not to mention career highs of 32 starts and 185 1/3 innings -- Boyd had a lot of reason for pride, and a lot of reason to believe he can take another step forward next year.

“Pitching in this game is a continual cat-and-mouse game,” Boyd said. “I pitched to these guys almost with two pitches early in the year, and now I’m pitching with different pitches. You have to continue to adapt and attack, and read swings and read how lineups are approaching you.”

Whether that step is taken in Detroit remains to be seen. For all of Boyd’s progress, the Tigers remain a club looking for young talent, and Boyd represents their best trade asset. But if he stays in a Tiger uniform, he has a very good case to wear it on the mound in Cleveland on March 26 as the Tigers’ Opening Day starter.

“He’ll tell you he got too many balls up toward the middle part of the plate and they hit them out, so he gave up too many home runs,” Gardenhire said. “But he’s a good pitcher, a really good pitcher. We’re going to have a lot of young pitchers in camp [next spring]. Not only is he going to get himself better, but he’ll help those guys out, too, just by how positive he is. That’s what you take out of this season, how we got a positive leader out there.”

Boyd has a history of struggling starts to close his seasons, from four runs on five hits without retiring a batter against Kansas City in 2016, to six runs and three homers over 3 2/3 innings in Minnesota last year. In that context, Saturday’s pitching line looked better. But he essentially had two different outings.

Though Boyd retired Chicago’s first six batters, he did almost exclusively on fastballs, which seemingly flummoxed a White Sox lineup that faced him six days ago at Comerica Park. He didn’t throw a pitch out of the stretch until a Harold Castro error at second put Yolmer Sánchez on base leading off the third inning. He yielded six hits and one walk over his next two innings.

Only one of those hits went for extra bases, a fourth-inning double from Sánchez. But White Sox hitters approached Boyd aggressively in those two innings and sprayed line drives and ground balls around Guaranteed Rate Field. His 94-mph high fastball on his 74th and final pitch suggested he wasn’t tired, but with his slider and changeup both ineffective, he also wasn’t his usual self.

Fifty of Boyd’s 74 pitches were fastballs, inducing eight swings and misses and six called strikes, according to Statcast. His 14 sliders, nine changeups and one curveball drew seven swings and misses and one called strike. The White sox didn’t hammer those pitches, but they weren’t dissuaded from the fastball either.

“It’s just looking at the approaches and seeing what they’re doing,” Boyd said. “You could kind of see [before Friday's rainout] with Matt Hall that they were kind of sitting soft and you could give them fastballs. Earlier today, that’s what we were doing, too. We were beating guys with fastballs, and then hoping to get the outside part of the plate with the changeup and then bring in the slider after that. I’m sure if I would’ve continued to pitch, we would’ve continued to go to the breaking balls a little more as they tried to adjust.

“It was an awesome game plan going in. We did what we wanted. We attacked. From six weak singles, you can’t really dictate where you place them, but they were all solid pitches.”

Miguel Cabrera’s first-inning home run accounted for Detroit’s offense. It was his 476th career home run that moved him out of a tie with Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Willie Stargell for 31st on MLB’s all-time list. His next long ball will tie him with longtime friend Adrián Beltré and place him in the top 30.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.