DETROIT -- The Tigers had a players-only meeting earlier this week amidst their recent struggles. While players didn't want to get into specifics, the gist of the message, much like manager Ron Gardenhire's meeting with them earlier this month, was to finish strong, the same way they started the season
DETROIT -- The Tigers had a players-only meeting earlier this week amidst their recent struggles. While players didn't want to get into specifics, the gist of the message, much like manager Ron Gardenhire's meeting with them earlier this month, was to finish strong, the same way they started the season -- not just for the team, but for themselves.
"We have an awesome opportunity in front of us, and we're excited for it," left-hander Matthew Boyd said after Thursday's 7-2 win over the White Sox at Comerica Park.
Few in that clubhouse know the value of such an opportunity better than Boyd, who took an overlooked Sunday afternoon game against the White Sox last September and nearly made history out of it. He fell an out shy of a no-hitter that day, but the pitching behind it -- from an overhauled delivery to a renewed aggressiveness -- carried through his strong final month, with a .216 batting average and a 2.95 ERA. That finish put him in position for a rotation spot heading into this season, which has become a better campaign than his 8-11 record and 4.09 ERA would indicate.
With a team-high 141 innings pitched, and a rotation-best .220 batting average allowed, Boyd has shown he belongs in the Tigers' rotation -- certainly for now, and arguably for the longer term. He didn't get a no-hitter against the White Sox on Thursday, either, but with six scoreless innings and six strikeouts, he continued to step forward as a starter the Tigers can count on.
"All that we do right now sets the tone for the offseason," Boyd said.
He's comfortable enough in his place that he could laugh when Gardenhire made T-shirts this week poking fun at two quotes Boyd said to Gardenhire two starts ago in a plea to stay in the game.
"This is what I trained for," the shirt read. "I'm programmed for this."
That wasn't a question Thursday, not with 103 pitches over six shutout innings. But with a comfortable lead, he had done his job.
Boyd hadn't faced the White Sox since that no-hit bid. He didn't have nearly as much suspense in his rematch, but thwarted early damage with help from an effective breaking ball and change of speeds that sent White Sox hitters flailing for six strikeouts in as many innings, nullifying six hits and a walk.
"You have to be careful with that lineup," Gardenhire said. "They can swing it. But the pace, I didn't like."
Boyd has thrown 18 consecutive scoreless innings against the White Sox since last August. He continued his trend of stingy pitching at Comerica Park, where he has allowed two runs in 25 innings over his last four starts. Jose Rondon's two-run homer off Louis Coleman thwarted Detroit's shutout bid in the eighth.
By contrast, the White Sox lost for the fourth time in as many James Shields outings against Detroit this season, though they kept it close until a three-homer sixth inning put the game away. Ronny Rodriguez doubled in a run in the fourth before sending a Shields curveball deep to left in the sixth for his first Major League home run and the Tigers' third in a four-batter span.
Jim Adduci's two-run double in the seventh chased Shields (5-15) with seven runs on 10 hits over 6 2/3 innings.
"He's a tough pitcher, a tough guy to compete against," Gardenhire said, "Today, we got him."
Boyd has a good chance to see the White Sox again in two starts, potentially on Labor Day in Chicago if the Tigers keep their current pitching order. He could also have two more meetings with the Royals, and another with the Twins. He has a good chance to be the first -- and maybe only -- Tiger this season with double-digit wins, a year after questions lingered whether he could stick in a big league rotation.
That's the opportunity.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Tigers thwart a run on backthrow: University of Michigan product Ryan LaMarre looked like he had an RBI single in the fifth inning with his line drive into center field. But as Yolmer Sanchez was cruising towards home, Tim Anderson tested Mike Gerber's arm in center by going first to third. Gerber fired to third in time for the out before Sanchez could cross home plate, ending the inning without a run.
"I didn't look at home," third baseman Jeimer Candelario said. "I just wanted to tag quick, then I could look. I just wanted the out."
Said Boyd: "That could've changed the whole dynamic of the game. That was a huge play."
Boyd improved to 6-3 with a 2.56 ERA in 12 starts at Comerica Park this season, striking out 57 batters over 70 1/3 innings. His home ERA ranks fifth-lowest among American League starters with at least 70 innings at home, according to STATS.
HE SAID IT
"Guys are coming up in September. And yeah, they're teammates, but they're trying to make a name for themselves. Don't get complacent. Don't look towards the offseason. Look towards this last month. Let's play hard and go have fun. That was the gist of it." -- Michael Mahtook, on Tigers' players-only meeting earlier this week
The Tigers optioned reliever Zac Reininger to Triple-A Toledo after Thursday's game, opening a roster spot for Michael Fulmer's return from the disabled list Friday. The 25-year-old Reininger, recalled last week as an extra reliever amidst a string of rotation moves, allowed two runs on five hits over five innings with a walk and five strikeouts over four appearances, including a scoreless ninth inning on Thursday.
Fulmer (3-9, 4.50 ERA) returns from the disabled list for his first start since July 14 as the Players' Weekend series continues Friday with a 7:10 p.m. ET start at Comerica Park. Fulmer spent the past five weeks rehabbing from a left oblique strain, but ended up tinkering with his pitches in the meantime. Reynaldo Lopez (4-9, 4.72) starts for the White Sox.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.