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Boyd bit by homer bug again in loss to Mariners

@beckjason
August 14, 2019

DETROIT -- The highlight that will be played over and over from the Tigers’ 11-6 loss to the Mariners on Tuesday night is Niko Goodrum and Brandon Dixon colliding to left-center field, with Kyle Seager’s drive deflecting off Goodrum and over the fence for his third home run of the

DETROIT -- The highlight that will be played over and over from the Tigers’ 11-6 loss to the Mariners on Tuesday night is Niko Goodrum and Brandon Dixon colliding to left-center field, with Kyle Seager’s drive deflecting off Goodrum and over the fence for his third home run of the night. The concern for Detroit has to be the four home runs that came before it, all off Matthew Boyd.

As Boyd walked off the mound at Comerica Park on Tuesday night in the sixth inning, having allowed back-to-back home runs to Kyle Seager and Tom Murphy for the second time in three innings, the frustration was evident. Boyd can live with home runs if he feels like he executed the pitch he wanted, but after becoming the sixth Tigers pitcher to yield a four-homer game at Comerica Park, that mentality only went so far.

“Tonight’s on me,” Boyd said, of a back-and-forth game that turned messy in the sixth inning and ugly after that.

For the second time in six days, a Boyd start at Comerica Park became a slugfest. And after Tuesday’s loss pushed Boyd to the precipice of the single-season record for most home runs allowed at Comerica Park in a season, the Tigers have to figure out what to make of it.

Box score

“His ball has been so crisp, and he’s been so good,” said manager Ron Gardenhire, searching for reasons. “Maybe it’s just a lot of innings on him right now. He’s also got a baby that’s going to be born here real soon. I’m sure that there’s a lot on his mind. And no excuses for him, and he won’t make any excuses; I promise you. But he does have a lot of things going on right now. There could be a number of things.”

Boyd has always had a hot-and-cold relationship with the long ball. He gave up 17 home runs over 57 1/3 innings in his rookie season between Toronto and Detroit. Boyd dropped that rate dramatically in 2017 on his way to claiming a full-time spot in the Tigers' rotation, and he had a similarly stingy rate for most of last season before 10 home runs over 23 1/3 September innings bumped it up.

Boyd opened this year by allowing just seven home runs over his first 12 starts, bucking the homer trend and earning an All-Star consideration in the process. He has allowed the same number of home runs in his past two starts, and 23 home runs over 73 1/3 innings in 13 starts since the beginning of June.

“You understand the process, why it’s happening,” Boyd said. “And if you look at it in a group and say this is when this started happening, that’s kind of short-sighted, in my opinion. Each [start] is a little bit different. I struck out guys differently early in the year than I did later in the year. ...

“If you want to look at it tonight, I got rotational on my slider to Seager. I got lazy on a fastball when I thought he probably wasn’t going to swing. Those are things I have full control over. Not throwing a pitch with conviction, that’s completely on me. [With] Murphy, I just missed twice.”

Whatever the cause, Boyd (6-9) joins Justin Verlander, Jarrod Washburn, Nate Robertson, Jason Johnson and Jeremy Bonderman as Tigers pitchers to allow four home runs in a game at Comerica Park. With 19 home runs allowed at Comerica Park, Boyd is within one of Verlander’s single-season record of 20 set in 2016. Seven of them have come in Boyd’s past two starts.

Unlike Thursday against the Royals, Boyd’s long-ball damage on Tuesday came later. His lone run allowed over the first three innings came on a soft line-drive single from J.P. Crawford, scoring Mallex Smith in the third after Smith singled and stole second.

In Boyd’s defense, the first set of back-to-back homers from Seager and Murphy had a combined expected batting average of .250, according to Statcast. Seager’s drive to right off a first-pitch fastball carried 358 feet before Murphy followed with a 352-foot drive down the right-field line off a full-count fastball left over the plate.

Boyd retired five consecutive batters from there before what looked like an easy fly ball to left-center became a two-base, two-out error on center fielder Goodrum, who cut off left fielder Dixon and then dropped the ball. With the inning extended, Boyd walked Austin Nola, hung a slider to Seager, then fired four consecutive high fastballs to Murphy, whose 429-foot drive to left put the Mariners up for good and chased Boyd from the game.

“I just have to be better there,” Boyd said. “Guys have picked me up so many times. It’s my job to pick them up, too. The walk is really what hurts you.”

Another miscommunication between Goodrum, making his sixth start in center, and Dixon, primarily a first baseman this year but playing in left Tuesday, resulted in the lasting image from the game, a ninth-inning homer off Jose Cisnero for the final margin. It wasn’t a game-changer so much as a punctuation mark. The damage came off Boyd, who’s left to find a way to reverse a trend.

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