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Perfection turns perplexing for Boyd in loss

@beckjason
September 20, 2020

DETROIT -- For four perfect innings, Matthew Boyd looked like he had a chance to reprise his no-hit bid from another crisp Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park three years and three days ago. What happened after that looked like the 2020 form that has perplexed the Tigers as much as

DETROIT -- For four perfect innings, Matthew Boyd looked like he had a chance to reprise his no-hit bid from another crisp Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park three years and three days ago. What happened after that looked like the 2020 form that has perplexed the Tigers as much as opposing hitters at times -- and impacted how Detroit has used the rest of its pitching staff.

Boyd threw at least six innings in 21 of 32 starts last season. When José Ramírez's two-run home run Sunday landed in the Tigers’ bullpen -- where Nick Ramirez was warming up to replace Boyd with nobody out in the sixth -- it marked the ninth time in 11 starts this year that the left-hander did not complete six innings, and it sent him on his way to his sixth loss in his last eight starts with a 7-4 defeat to the Indians.

Box score

Even with an expanded bullpen and shortened season, it’s a big difference. It arguably impacted how Ron Gardenhire could use his bullpen on other days for piggyback starter Michael Fulmer and rookies Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize. On Sunday, it was interim manager Lloyd McClendon’s turn. Whoever manages this team next year, even with a healthier Fulmer two years past his Tommy John surgery, will also be looking for deeper starts from Boyd, Spencer Turnbull and others.

“It can be very challenging, because we have so many young kids in our rotation, and our bullpen has had to eat up a lot of innings,” McClendon said. “One thing I know about a bullpen: You like your bullpen and you like your power arms, but if they’re out there too much, you’re not going to like them at some point, because they’re going to be overworked.

McClendon set to lead Tigers down stretch

“I think Gardy did a tremendous job of managing that as best he could, and we’ll continue to try to do that, to watch those innings. But we do need our starters to step up and give us a few more innings.”

Boyd will have one more start this regular season. Carlos Carrasco’s seven scoreless innings for Cleveland would have denied Boyd any chance at a victory anyway, but the lefty's mix of pitches over his first four innings looked like another step of progress before his outing fell apart in the fifth.

“He mixed his pitches well,” McClendon said. “It’s just unfortunate that inning, he left a couple pitches up to some good hitters. He’s just gotta continue to grind and continue to grow from it.”

Boyd (2-7) spent his first four innings building off his start last month in Cleveland, where he fed Indians hitters a steady diet of changeups. He went curveball, changeup, then back to the curveball to fan slugger Franmil Reyes on three pitches in the second inning. Oscar Mercado took two changeups for strikes and fanned on another, spotted beautifully at the bottom of the strike zone, to lead off the third.

“A lot of those guys were going out early after the fastball,” Boyd said. “We just used that to our advantage and started using everything. [Catcher Austin Romine] called a great game.”

Boyd retired his first 12 batters in order with only one ball, a Ramírez groundout, hit harder than 98 mph. He generated seven swings and misses off his changeup, and he reached just two three-ball counts with arguably his best command of the season. Carrasco allowed a Romine single and a Daz Cameron walk but otherwise kept pace, sending Boyd back out for the fifth inning in a scoreless duel.

From there, Boyd looked like a different pitcher, falling behind on 3-0 counts to his first two batters. Carlos Santana centered a 3-1 fastball over the plate and sent it back through the middle for a leadoff single. Reyes drew a walk after seeing five fastballs and a changeup. Boyd went back to the curveball on a 1-2 pitch to Jordan Luplow but hung it, allowing Luplow to line an RBI single to left. Delino DeShields tacked on two more runs by jumping a first-pitch hanging slider and lining it to center.

“All the pitches I wanted to throw, I threw,” Boyd said. “Just didn’t throw them how I wanted to. And that was really the difference. That’s what I want back.”

After retiring Cleveland’s first 12 batters, Boyd retired just three of his final nine. His 87th and final pitch wasn’t bad, a changeup low and in, but it was elevated just enough for Ramírez to extend his arms and pull it into the Tigers’ bullpen.

Boyd finished with five runs on five hits over five-plus innings, with a walk and three strikeouts. His ERA rose to 6.96. The Tigers rallied once Carrasco left with a Willi Castro broken-bat RBI single ahead of Miguel Cabrera’s seventh home run of the season and 484th of his career, all off Cam Hill.

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