Jupiter, Fla. — He still has three more starts this spring, but to this point, Matthew Boyd has made it just about impossible for the Tigers to deny him a spot in the rotation.
The left-hander was dominant Tuesday in the Tigers 7-1 spring win over the Marlins. He went five innings — the first Tigers starter to finish five innings — allowed three hits, with no walks and five strikeouts. He threw 60 pitches, 46 of them strikes — and 13 of the strikes were swings and misses.
Here’s the telltale stat: He threw a first-pitch strike to 15 of the 17 batters he faced. He didn’t face a single three-ball count.
“He certainly helped himself today,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
Boyd is fighting, presumably, for the fifth spot in the rotation with Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey. Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmermann and most likely Daniel Norris have the first four slots.
Ausmus talked about Norris before the game.
“It’s written in pencil,” he said about Norris being the fourth starter. “I actually hope he is, because he’s got the ability and the stuff to be a very good major-league pitcher. And he’s really pitched well this spring and he finished strong for us last year.”
Boyd knows better than to make any assumptions.
“Nothing is guaranteed,” he said. “Just keep go out every day, keep working hard and let somebody else make that decision.”
Boyd didn’t throw a pitch over 93 mph, but his command of all five pitches enabled him to vary speeds and locations masterfully. And the fact that he was ahead in the count on just about every batter meant he could expand the strike zone and throw the pitch of his choice — no fastballs in fastball counts.
“That’s the goal, right?” Boyd said. “Try to be aggressive early so you can, you know, on or out in three pitches. When you get ahead early, it just opens everything up. You can do whatever. Just have to get ahead.”
In a four-pitch strikeout of Tyler Moore leading off the second, Boyd threw him a two-seam fastball for strike one, got him way out in front of a change-up for strike two, missed with a slider away and got him swinging late on a four-seamer up in the zone.
He ended the inning with a three-pitch out against Destin Hood — slow curve (76 mph), change-up (80) then he jammed him with a 91 mph two-seamer — soft line drive to first.
He was so in change of his stuff, he even shook off veteran catcher Alex Avila in the first inning.
“I did?” he said afterward.
He did, against left-handed slugger Justin Bour. He had just thrown a 2-1 slider to even the count. Avila put down two different pitches but Boyd liked how Bour jumped at the previous pitch. So he shook twice until Avila relented, then got Bour swinging way in front of the 85 mph slider.
“We were on the same page pretty much all game,” Boyd said. “The defense behind me was great, everybody. This was a fun one.”
The Tigers offense is heating up, too, especially J.D. Martinez, who singled and doubled, and knocked in a run. Martinez, after a slow start, has six hits in the last three games, with two homers and two doubles.
Justin Upton, after a rare day off Monday, blasted a long, line-drive, three-run home run in a four-run fifth inning. He also made a superb catch on a ball hit over his head to the wall in left.
Anthony Gose, still hanging in the center field fight, got a pair of hits, including a two-run double in the sixth. Noteworthy is that the double was hit to the opposite field. Gose has been stuck in pull-mode this spring, hitting a lot of roll-over ground balls.
Jose Iglesias and Dixon Machado chipped in with a pair of hits each.
“It was a good day all around for the Tigers,” Ausmus said.