Sarasota, Fla. — Anibal Sanchez has had one good outing this spring. Mike Pelfrey has been better in his last two outings.
But of the three presumed combatants for the final rotation spot, left-hander Matthew Boyd has been consistently good throughout the spring.
“They are all even until we make a decision,” manager Brad Ausmus said, with a smile. “Obviously, he’s pitched the best of all the guys who are in the running.”
Boyd continued to pad his case Sunday with five more impressive innings in the Tigers 7-1 exhibition win against the Orioles. He gave up one run and six hits, while striking out four. In five games, he’s struck out 16 with no walks.
“Everything felt good,” Boyd said. “Just another step toward the season.”
Boyd has allowed one run and nine hits in his last two starts covering 10 full innings.
“Both fastballs were good,” he said of his two-seamer (91-92 mph) and four-seamer (93-95 mph). “All of the off-speed pitches felt good. There were a couple of situations where maybe I could’ve been not quite so fine with two strikes. But outside of that, I was very happy.”
The run came in the second inning on back-to-back doubles by Chris Davis and Trey Mancini. Mancini’s was on an 1-2 fastball (95 mph) that caught too much of the plate and landed on the chalk down the left field line. Two of the other hits were on wind-blown popups that fell in shallow right field.
Boyd, though, showed good poise in that windy fourth inning. With runners on first and third and two outs, he buckled down and induced a rollover ground out from Paul Janish to end the inning.
“Since we first acquired him, he seems to have matured,” Ausmus said. “His in-game maturity has improved. He has been able to handle bounces of the baseball that don’t go in his direction — figurative bounces of the baseball.”
He threw 77 pitches, with 48 strikes. His best pitch was his slider, which got him three swing-and-miss strikeouts. For the second straight start, he was very effective mixing slow curveballs and change-ups with sliders and fastballs.
“I want to be able to use any pitch in any situation throughout the year,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting comfortable throwing all five pitches and commanding them all — reading swings and knowing the game.”
It’s the diverse repertoire that first drew Ausmus’ attention.
“I actually always liked him; I was kind of the high guy on him in his first year,” Ausmus said. “I thought he was going to sneak up and be a pretty good pitcher. Not that others didn’t like him. I’m not trying to take credit for him. But once I saw him, I liked him.
“He had three pitches, now four (five counting both fastballs), and had the ability to pitch up with the fastball and soft with the curve and change-up. Now he’s added a slider, which has been very good.”
As for the roster battle, Boyd has effectively blocked that out.
“It’s out of my control,” he said. “All I do is take the ball and just keep going. I just want to do whatever I can to help this team win.”
The Tigers couldn’t touch Orioles starter Kevin Gausman, who pitched five scoreless innings. He allowed just two singles and struck out eight.
They were happy to see lefty Richard Bleier in the sixth. Andrew Romine (two hits) singled, Alex Presley doubled and James McCann singled to score one run. The second run scored on a double-play ground by Steven Moya.
Minor league call-up Matt Murton, former Cubs outfielder who spent the last six years in Japan, bashed a two-run home run in the seventh.
Mikie Mahtook also contributed two hits.
Shane Greene, despite walking two, pitched a scoreless inning and Warwick Saupold, slated to be in the rotation at Triple-A Toledo, pitched the final three innings.