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Boyd developing control over 'sharper' curve

@beckjason
February 24, 2020

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The crowd reaction to José Altuve’s called third strike in the first inning Monday was not a curveball. The Astros are not popular these days, and Altuve is one of their biggest names, bringing a roar from the crowd at Joker Marchant Stadium.

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The crowd reaction to José Altuve’s called third strike in the first inning Monday was not a curveball. The Astros are not popular these days, and Altuve is one of their biggest names, bringing a roar from the crowd at Joker Marchant Stadium.

Astros 11, Tigers 1

The pitch that froze Altuve, though, really was a curveball. And for that, Matthew Boyd had reason to cheer on the inside.

This is part of the process of spreading out Boyd’s arsenal. He has always thrown a curve; he just hasn’t thrown it like this. He didn’t throw many curves of any kind last year, though.

“I’ve always said I’m a four-pitch pitcher,” Boyd said after his two innings of work in Monday’s 11-1 loss. “Last year, I got a little two-dimensional for a good part of the year, but I have all four pitches.”

There are no short answers from Boyd, especially when it comes to pitches. The curveball, he said, “can be whatever it needs to be.”

“I can pitch like I did last year, the few times I threw my curveball, and make it really good,” he said. “I can throw it maybe to left-handers like I did today. I can throw it 0-2, which is something new.”

The curveball to Altuve was an 0-2 pitch, a trick he tried again in the next inning. The curve he threw to Yuli Gurriel three batters later with two men on base came on the first pitch. This is the time for Boyd to test it out, but it’s hardly the time to tinker. That was an offseason-long process that began at Driveline near his home in Seattle, continued at home and carried here to Tigertown.

Boyd basically has his own pitching lab. He bought a Rapsodo machine a year ago and an Edgertronic camera over the fall to help him work on his pitches in the offseason. He used the tools to make his slider an out pitch a couple of years ago. His goal this offseason was to tighten the curve.

Boyd threw fastballs on 18 percent of his pitches in 2017, according to Statcast, more than he threw his slider. When his reworked slider rose to prominence in ‘18, his curve dropped to 12 percent of his pitches. Last year, just four percent of his pitches were curveballs.

It wasn’t just preference. He gave up three home runs off the curve last year. The shape wasn’t right, and Boyd couldn’t really fix it until after the season.

“My curveball always had a tendency to pop, and it wasn’t,” Boyd said. “You saw it sharper today. Everything [pitching coach Rick Anderson] was telling me was, ‘Hey, you have to get more out in front.’ I understood. It’s hard to do in the middle of the season; we all knew that. I just went into the offseason and said, ‘This is what I want to do.’”

Boyd went to Driveline and started adjusting the grip. He threw it in front of the cameras and got readings on the spin and axis. He brought it to Spring Training and showed it to Anderson.

“Rick has been telling me all the same stuff,” Boyd said. “He tells me things and sometimes it’s like, ‘Boom, that clicks.’ And then other times, that didn’t click as much. And then he shows me on the camera. It’s just another teaching tool. It’s affirming all the things.”

The goal is to deliver a slower, bigger breaking ball than the slider, which is still his primary breaking pitch. And when Gurriel recovered from that first-pitch curveball to work a nine-pitch at-bat Monday, Boyd went back to the slider for the strikeout to finish off the inning.

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