DETROIT -- Matthew Boyd whirled his head toward right field in surprise as speedy Willie Calhoun reached for the curveball and drove it to Comerica Park’s right-field seats for a home run to lead off the fifth inning Wednesday night. Calhoun had whiffed on a first-pitch slider and taken another before Boyd went to his third pitch.
“It was a good pitch,” Boyd said, “but it wasn't the right pitch. I beat him on a slider and gave him a shot when I slowed it down with a curveball.”
Two batters later, Boyd yelled out in frustration as Jeff Mathis, the Rangers’ sub-.200-hitting catcher, turned on Boyd’s fastball and sent it deep to left for another solo homer.
“He just didn't get it in where he wanted it,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said of his starter. “He pulled it and hit a home run, which is kind of Mathis' danger zone. I know that and [Boyd] knows that. We went over it in the [pregame scouting] report.”
Or, as Boyd put it, “Shame on me for that pitch.”
When Danny Santana pounced on a hanging slider two batters after that, Boyd put his left hand on his hip in astonishment. He has yielded three-homer games before, including twice against the Rangers in his rookie season of 2015 and in Cleveland five days ago, but never in the same inning. And never in a game in which he recorded double-digit strikeouts like he did in Wednesday’s 4-1 Tigers loss.
“He just got some balls up against a team that hits the ball in the seats,” Gardenhire said. “That's what these guys do. They live by that over there, and they made him pay for about three or four bad pitches.”
Boyd struck out five of Texas’ first six batters, yielded three homers in a five-batter span in the fifth, then struck out the Rangers in order in his seventh and final inning. This is the Rangers’ game, swinging big and scoring big when they connect. It was frustrating nonetheless for Boyd, not to mention the handful of scouts in attendance to watch his matchup opposite fellow breakout starter and potential trade candidate Mike Minor.
With the Red Sox and Cubs among the teams with evaluators at Comerica Park, Boyd hit a familiar hurdle as summer settles in. After giving up just seven home runs over his first 12 starts, the left-hander will finish June with 10 homers allowed over 29 innings, comprising nearly a third of his 32 hits allowed. It hasn’t been one particular pitch plaguing him, as the fastball was earlier this month; the six homers allowed over his last two starts have come from across his repertoire.
His slider produced eight swings and misses, including five of his 11 strikeouts, but it also produced Santana’s 108-mph liner. His fastball produced his other six strikeouts, 11 swings and misses and nine called strikes. The Rangers’ average exit velocity on the fastballs they put in play was just 83.2 mph, according to Statcast, but Mathis’ homer went out at 98.3 mph.
It’s a frustrating turn in a potential All-Star season, but Boyd is trying to look beyond the results, as he should on a team that has struggled to provide run support (the Tigers' only run came on a solo home run by Brandon Dixon in the fourth).
“Just hats off to them,” Boyd said. “If those are fly balls, you guys aren't really saying anything about that, right? That's just what happens. You can't measure success the same way on a stat sheet. Otherwise, you're going to ride the ups and downs of the year. You can't ride those emotional ups and downs. You have to stay the course and you have to measure success in a way that's not in the stats.”
Contending teams in need of starting pitching, of course, have to consider results as July approaches and the trade market heats up. With a strong resume, an unquestioned work ethic, a track record of adjustments and improvement and three seasons left before free agency, Boyd still has appeal to teams, especially those whose windows of contention are just beginning to open. But at what cost?
The Tigers have placed a high sticker on Boyd so far, their asking price believed to include multiple impact prospects, similar to what the White Sox received from the Cubs for Jose Quintana two years ago with similar years of control remaining. With Cleveland back in contention, thanks in part to series sweeps of the Tigers the last two weekends, and Texas rolling behind Minor -- who tossed his second complete game of the season -- the supply of available starters could be trending in Detroit’s favor. Still, a midseason slump from Boyd won’t help the Tigers meet their return target as they look for a big deal to further stock young talent for their rebuild.
Then again, through the same number of starts (17) two years ago, Justin Verlander had a 4.96 ERA, 12 homers allowed and was still searching for his better mechanics. Not until the back half of July did he find his top form, putting together a nine-start roll that piqued the Astros’ interest. While the 28-year-old Boyd has age on his side, he doesn’t have Verlander’s track record, and the Tigers don’t have quite as large of a window. With one Trade Deadline on July 31, Detroit will either have to deal Boyd in the next five weeks or hold onto him, at least until the offseason.
Four of Texas’ five hits off Boyd went for extra bases, and four of the runners scored, including Calhoun tagging up from second base on Ronald Guzman’s drive that sent JaCoby Jones crashing into the center-field wall for a highlight catch.
Boyd’s next start won’t present any less of a challenge, a visit next week to Chicago against an increasingly imposing White Sox lineup in a ballpark where home runs tend to fly in the summer heat.