Jupiter, Fla. – One of the Tigers’ primary missions this spring was to identify and develop not five starting pitchers, but eight or nine.
And why not, after having to use 12 different starters a year ago?
That mission may not be complete, but it’s trending in the right direction.
“I felt good about that before we even arrived in Lakeland,” manager Brad Ausmus said, referring to the additions of Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey and a healthy Justin Verlander.
But left-hander Matt Boyd is doing his part to deepen the organization’s starting pitching. He has put himself in position to be the sixth starter – opening the season at Triple-A Toledo -- and the first likely call-up should the need arise in Detroit.
He pitched five scoreless, two-hit innings Friday in the Tigers’ 2-0 spring win against the Cardinals. It was a dominant performance against a lineup of Cardinal regulars. He struck out seven, including three on three pitches. He also induced six groundball outs.
“That’s out of my control,” Boyd said of his spot in the Tigers’ pecking order. “I’ve got no say. They could send me to Low-A – I have no bearing on it. It’s just wasted energy for me (to think about that).”
Instead, Boyd continues to focus on week-to-week improvements.
“Just trying to build off my last start,” he said. “Just adding another building block. I made some adjustments off the last start and I was able to execute off of it.”
He and pitching coach Rich Dubee worked on ways to simplify his delivery so he can repeat it more consistently.
“Just allowing me to repeat,” Boyd said. “That’s what the guys who are elite can do. That’s going to be big for me.”
He was in trouble just once, in the third after allowing a leadoff double to Kolten Wong. He contributed to his problems by being too anxious on a poor bunt by Adam Wainwright.
If Boyd had checked Wong back to second for another beat, he would have kept them there.
Instead, Wong got to third after Boyd’s throw to first. But, Boyd fanned Matt Carpenter and then got Tommy Pham to ground out.
“The new slider has been a good pitch for him,” Ausmus said. “He was even getting swings and misses with his curveball.”
Boyd threw 70 pitches, 48 for strikes. His fastballs (four-seam and two-seam) were steady at 92-93 mph and he deftly mixed in a slider, curve and changeup.
“I think I got a strikeout on each of my five pitches,” he said. “Coming into the game me and Doc (Bryan Holaday, catcher) put an emphasis on putting guys away when I had them 0-2. I wasn’t able to do that my last start. Today, I just didn’t want to waste anything. When we got into that situation, try to put the hitter away. It worked out well.”
Although nothing is definitive at this point, the Tigers’ rotation is expected to be Verlander, Pelfrey, Zimmermann, Anibal Sanchez and Daniel Norris. Norris and Shane Greene are still battling fiercely for the final spot.
Greene could make the 25-man roster as a reliever if Norris prevails.
Boyd, Buck Farmer and Michael Fulmer are expected to be in the rotation in Toledo, giving the Tigers nine capable starting pitchers.
The Tigers scratched out a pair of runs off Wainwright. Holaday knocked in the first run with a groundout after Tyler Collins and Casey McGehee singled in the second.
Collins singled, stole second, and scored on a base hit by McGehee.
J.D. Martinez nearly got his fifth homer of the spring but Matt Holliday went back to the wall in left and caught it off the top off the fence.
Jose Valdez, Bobby Parnell (his fastball velocity up to 94-95 and once touching 96 mph), Kyle Ryan and Lendy Castillo pitched the ninth. The Tigers allowed three hits.
It was the Tigers’ fifth straight spring win.