Familiar bugaboo sabotages Boyd in Cincy

September 5th, 2021

CINCINNATI -- For the third time in as many visits to Great American Ball Park, Matthew Boyd fell to the long ball. This time, it didn’t come from Joey Votto.

Much as Boyd tries to avoid his propensity for home runs, the big drive seems to find him in this park. On Saturday, it came from Aristides Aquino, whose three-run homer off one of the few sliders Boyd didn’t execute punctuated a five-run third inning that included another Votto hit and put the Reds up for good in a rain-soaked 7-4 Detroit defeat.

It was a reminder that Boyd is still working his way back after missing nearly three months with a sore arm. But he also has just a handful of starts left to get back to his previous form before season’s end. All the while, he’s trying to provide a veteran presence in a rotation that features three rookies.

“Is it an excuse? No,” Boyd said. “This is kind of uncharted waters for me this season. I’ve never experienced any of that. But it’s something that’s got to be done. I know what I need to do going forward, and I know that the best is ahead of me.”

Boyd has led the American League in home runs allowed in each of the last two seasons, but he has cut his home run rate in half this year with help from an effective changeup, a useful curveball and less predictability. He yielded one homer in six April starts and entered June with three allowed over 57 2/3 innings before the Brewers hit three off him on June 1.

However, this is a ballpark that has dogged him in his periodic visits. Votto hit a grand slam off Boyd to break up a scoreless duel on June 19, 2018, and slugged a solo homer off him in an Opening Day defeat last year in a wild outing that included a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch. Votto is one of just three left-handed hitters with multiple career homers off Boyd.

Saturday looked to be different, and not just for the weather -- though if anyone should know how to pitch in the rain, it should be the Seattle-raised Boyd. He missed the strike zone with his first five pitches, also reminiscent of his Opening Day start last year. But this time, he recovered. He stuck out four of Cincinnati’s first eight batters, walked two others, and allowed just three balls in play -- all grounders. Reds hitters were making him work, but not making him pay.

“It looked like he was battling and scrambling,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He pitched out of a little damage control early.”

Boyd’s second walk, a one-out pass to Aquino in the second inning, came when he threw back-to-back sliders well off the plate following a 2-2 count. Aquino didn’t chase, but he saw the pitches. The walk meant the pitcher’s spot came up that inning, and after Tyler Mahle battled for eight pitches before grounding out, Boyd had to begin the third inning with his second trip through the order.

Eric Haase’s three-run homer allowed Boyd to begin the third with a 3-0 lead, and he retired Jonathan India quickly to continue his roll. But back-to-back pitches -- Tyler Stephenson’s single on a 2-0 changeup, then Nick Castellanos’ double off a second-pitch fastball -- put Boyd in trouble with Votto stepping to the plate.

Boyd spotted a pair of sliders on the inner-half against him, then put a sinker in the same spot. He broke Votto’s bat, but Votto sent a looping line drive into right field for an RBI single. The hit also moved Castellanos to third, allowing him to score on the ensuing sacrifice fly from Eugenio Suárez.

"It was a broken bat,” Boyd said of Votto’s single. “But he's one of the best hitters in this league. He's one of the best hitters of these last few decades. He stayed with it and turned it into a hit.”

Boyd had a 3-2 lead, but he was one out away from escaping. Kyle Farmer’s single to short continued the inning for Aquino, who saw a first-pitch slider over the plate and sent it deep to left.

"Unfortunately, it's the one [slider] I didn't want to throw all day in terms of just how the shape was,” Boyd said. “That's a three-run mistake and that's the difference in the ballgame."

Boyd finished with five runs allowed on seven hits over four innings, striking out six and walking two.