Detroit – Tigers pitching coach Rick Anderson has a little visualization trick he uses with his pitchers. He tells them to envision a spiral in the middle of the plate.
“You want to try to stay in the middle of that spiral,” he said. “Once you start thinking, ‘Oh, I didn’t make a good pitch there. Oh, should’ve thrown a different pitch there. Oh, I’ve given up a hit,’ you start getting outside that spiral.”
On Wednesday night, Tigers starter Matthew Boyd was spinning in large circles outside that spiral.
“Now it’s, how are we going to get back in the spiral?” Anderson said. “Tempo is going to get you back in. Pace is going to get you back in. It’s about trying to stay in that little circle in the middle.”
For three innings Wednesday, Boyd seemed out of sorts. Normally a quick worker, he was deliberate, taking a lot of time between pitches. He was struggling, it seemed, to get comfortable in his set-up and in his delivery. His fastball was down a tick, between 91-92 mph, but more problematic, it didn’t have any life, no zip, through the zone.
He gave up four runs and seven hits in those three innings, before seemingly finding some rhythm in scoreless fourth and fifth innings.
Boyd and Anderson had a long talk in the dugout after the outing.
“You start overthinking, your tempo goes down, your pace goes down and the slower you are the more inconsistent you are going to be,” Anderson said. “You could see it and we were constantly trying to get him to get the ball and go, get your rhythm, pace and tempo.
“The more he was standing around, the more he started thinking. To me, I think he’s doing a little too much over-thinking on what he’s trying to do and that was addressed last night.”
It begs the question, though: Why is a veteran pitcher like Boyd, who has worked his way to the point of being the ace of the Tigers staff, suddenly not sure, suddenly over-thinking, suddenly doing things mechanically he hasn’t done in a couple of years?
Anderson and Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire both insisted there was nothing wrong physically, and Boyd said the issues were “mechanical and mental,” and correctable.
“I know how I’m going to respond,” Boyd said. “There’s a lot of good to take out of this, too. There were a few things, no tempo and no rhythm – you start working that slow and things get out of whack with your delivery.”
Tempo is one of Anderson’s trouble-shooting keys. He worked with relievers Jose Cisnero, Gregory Soto and Bryan Garcia to simplify and accelerate their delivery, which has helped all three gain some jump on their fastballs and consistency with their command.
“I’ve always said, ‘Quick body, quick arm; slow body, slow arm,’” Anderson said. “Cisnero has been outstanding this year, but last year he was like 1.6 seconds to home plate – slow body, slow arm. We’ve quickened him up and is arm is quicker and he’s getting the ball out front and he’s been impressive.
“You get that tempo and you’ll be amazed how that delivery falls in order.”
But Boyd has already passed this particular Professor Anderson course. It was one of his big gains coming into last year – a quicker tempo, an attack mentality, coming right at the hitters with fastballs that in the first half of the season were sitting at 94 mph.
Why the regression?
“With all of our starters, it’s a progression,” Anderson said. “We’ve had a shorter spring and we’re trying to build them up.”
Boyd was fastball-slider dominant in the first three innings Wednesday, but when he started working in his change-up and curve ball, he got better results. But Anderson thinks location and command, for Boyd, are more critical than pitch sequence and selection.
“We addressed this in the second half last year,” Anderson said. “You watch the games and look at the heat maps, with those home runs he gave up (league-high 39), it was all middle-in. They would wait for the slider or the fastball to come in.
“I said, ‘Matty, one thing we’ve got to do get on the other side of the plate. Go with what got you here, you’re too one-sided.’ His bread and butter last year was fastball, slider, change-up, and now he has a curve and we’ll mix that in. But we’ve got to get a hold of his top three pitches and build off that.”
Boyd normally mostly stoic on the mound, but on Wednesday, his frustration was visible.
“Some of that is just the initial reaction, right,” Boyd said. “Just a gut reaction, worrying about the result. Then you understand you can’t control that and you go back to it. Other times it’s like, ‘If I threw that fastball like I wanted to, I think I would’ve beat that guy, or it wouldn’t have been a line drive to center, it would have been a jam-shot.’
“It just happens in the moment. You react and you get back to what you do. I know what I am going to work on going forward. There are ways I can improve my game. Just have to move forward.”