The leadoff home run from Jonathan Davis looked like a bad omen for Matthew Boyd in his third spring start on Monday. It wasn’t just about the three leadoff homers Boyd yielded last season. It was the fastball Boyd left over the plate that the Blue Jays' outfielder belted out with a 105.1 exit velocity, according to Statcast.
By contrast, the mix of pitches Boyd deployed for his final two innings of the 4-0 loss, playing sliders off changeups and curveballs off sliders, was a more encouraging sign that the left-hander had learned from last season.
Boyd alternated fastballs and sliders to Davis, a pattern he fell into at times the past couple of years. It would’ve worked had Boyd's 1-2 slider coaxed a call at the bottom of the strike zone from home-plate umpire Sean Barber, but his ensuing 2-2 fastball wandered over the middle of the plate, where Davis belted it toward the left-field berm.
The next time Davis stepped up, Boyd followed two changeups with two sliders to send Davis down swinging and begin a clean third. Boyd threw one fastball in the 13-pitch inning, and only one other pitch over 80 mph.
“They went out there to attack that fastball, so then it’s our job to counter,” Boyd said. “And after that first inning, it was like, ‘OK, let’s just start like that’s their approach.’”
Boyd was similarly selective in the fourth inning, erasing a leadoff infield single with a Joe Panik double-play grounder before striking out Santiago Espinal on three pitches to end his afternoon.
Boyd allowed four balls in play with an exit velocity over 100 mph, all off fastballs. By contrast, five of his six swings and misses came off changeups and sliders.
“When you’re talking about the slider and the changeup, the slider’s going to move left to right, the changeup’s going to move right to left,” Boyd said. “The slider’s a little firmer than the changeup on average, so those are going to work off each other.”
Just as important to manager A.J. Hinch, Boyd threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of 15 hitters, and used all four pitches to do so.
“When he’s pounding the strike zone, he can elevate,” Hinch said after the Tigers’ 4-0 loss. “He makes right-handers uncomfortable by pitching in. He gets into leverage counts. That’s a huge thing for him, moreso than even other pitchers on our staff. Leverage matters to him a lot, because he can expose it with different pitches.”
Putting opponents on hold
Matt Manning again impressed with his pitches, reaching 97 mph with his fastball while drawing four called strikes with his retinkered slider. But the Blue Jays tried to get to Manning on the basepaths, swiping three bases in the fifth inning.
Forrest Wall reached on a leadoff single and stole second and third base, the latter fairly easily with a huge lead off second. After Davis walked to put runners at the corners, he stole second, again rather easily, to put two runners in scoring position.
Manning escaped trouble with a called third strike on Teoscar Hernández, then he scatted two more baserunners off two-out singles in a scoreless sixth. But the stolen bases were a lesson for him.
“It is a learning curve for him,” Hinch said. “And he’s so athletic, it’s going to be something that’s really easy for him to pick up. But one of the many things that you see the younger players that didn’t get to pitch last year in a competitive environment, you miss a year of some small things that are around the margins that matter a lot. So it doesn’t really surprise me, just given his lack of pitching in the last year, but it’s an obvious teaching point.”
Pérez fastball ticks up
The good news for Franklin Pérez in his second spring outing was his velocity. He averaged 90 mph on his fastball Tuesday and topped out at 91.6 mph, according to Statcast, after not reaching 90 mph during his first outing on Wednesday against the Phillies.
The bad news for Pérez was that the velocity seemed to come at the expense of command. He issued a walk and a wild pitch in two-thirds of an inning, and he threw just half of his 20 pitches for strikes. Both outs were strikeouts on curveballs.
Pérez still has a ways to go to approach his old mid-90s fastball, but it’s progress.
“I think it’s going to be a slow climb,” Hinch said, “and hopefully he can build off of that.”
Former Tigers reliever passes away
Former Major League reliever Eulogio De La Cruz, who came up through the Tigers' farm system and debuted for Detroit in 2007, passed away Sunday, just two days after his 37th birthday. De La Cruz died from cardiac arrest, according to reports out of his native Dominican Republic.
De La Cruz, signed by Detroit at age 17 in 2001, had a 5-foot-11 frame but a big fastball, reaching 100 mph while in the Minor Leagues. He pitched in six games for Detroit in '07, then went to the Marlins after the season in the Miguel Cabrera trade.
De La Cruz pitched winter ball this offseason for Toros del Este, where he was a teammate of current Tiger Jeimer Candelario.