Ausmus: Boyd isn’t on a game-by-game leash

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers pitcher Matt Boyd pitched five no-hit innings against the Yankees in his last start.

Detroit — Matt Boyd made his major league debut last year, and it might have been the second most exciting sporting event that he was involved in.

First understand that the Tigers left-hander, who will make his third start of the season against the Blue Jays on Tuesday, grew up in Seattle and is a huge fan of both the Seahawks and Mariners.

“Growing up I had posters of Ken Griffey, Edgar Martinez and Randy Johnson on my bedroom walls,” he said. “I even had the Randy Johnson strikeout calendar, you know, with the little ‘K’ stickers. I mean, I lived like five minutes from the ballpark.”

So imagine his excitement when he got the opportunity to be Johnson’s photo assistant during the 49ers-Seahawks game in November.

“I gave pitching lessons to a kid on my dad’s 18-and-under team,” Boyd said. “He asked me what I was doing on Nov. 22. He said he had a surprise for me, that I was going to be on the field, holding a camera and taking pictures.

“When I showed up, Randy Johnson was raising the 12th man flag. He said I was going to be Randy Johnson’s assistant.”

Boyd likes to take pictures, but unlike his teammate Daniel Norris, his wife, or Johnson — who is now a successful photojournalist — it’s not a serious vocation for him. That was the only awkward part of his day.

“I took photos of him raising the 12th man flag and for the first two quarters of the game I was with him on the sidelines as he snapped photos,” Boyd said. “I wanted to pick his brain about certain things but at first I don’t think he realized I was a pro ballplayer.

“He’d ask me for certain lenses and stuff, like during the first drive of the game, and I was like, ‘Hey, man, I’m a ballplayer. I don’t know anything about that stuff.’”

Once that was established, they talked a lot of baseball — more like Johnson talked and Boyd soaked it all up.

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“We had a good conversation,” he said. “We talked a lot about life. The guy played a long time and had a lot of success and he played in a lot of different places. He had a lot of wisdom to share.

“It was a dream come true. It was an honor to be with him for that long.”

Boyd, like Monday night’s starter Michael Fulmer, is trying to burrow his way into a permanent spot in the Tigers rotation. With Anibal Sanchez and Shane Greene working out of the bullpen these days, Boyd has been given the keys to the No. 5 starter role.

For now, it’s his to lose and manager Brad Ausmus said before the game that it’s more than a game-by-game audition.

“His first two outings were solid,” Ausmus said. “So I don’t want to act like he’s dangling over a cliff. Nobody is going to be perfect every time they go out there.”

Boyd pitched five no-hit innings against the Yankees in his last start, before getting bounced from the game abruptly in the seventh. He gave up six hits to the final 10 batters he faced.

He had stymied the Yankees with his change-up, but the third time through the order, veteran hitters like Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez and Chase Headley began to sit on the pitch.

“You just have to know when you are facing an older lineup, an experienced lineup like that, they are going to adjust and you have to make your adjustments quicker,” Boyd said. “Once you see that, you have to counter it quicker. That’s one thing I learned.”

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He threw his change-up 19 percent of the time against the Yankees. On the season, he’s throwing it 16 percent. His four-seamer has been his most effective pitch. Only the A’s got a hit off it, while the Yankees and Indians didn’t reach base against his four-seamer.

“I still have to pitch the same way,” Boyd said. “I still want to attack and see how the game plays out. You want to force contact and attack and see the difference between not executing pitches and executing pitches.”

Tuesday will be Boyd’s second start against the Blue Jays, the club that he broke in with. Last year at Rogers Centre, he gave up home runs to Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista in a rough six-inning outing.

“It was fun to go back and pitch in the place I made my debut, but I was a little more new,” he said. “That first year you don’t know — everything is new. I feel like, I don’t want to say I’m comfortable, but there is more familiarity now. You develop a routine. I’ve been here a few more months now.”

As for every start being an audition, Boyd just shrugged.

“I’m just grateful for the day,” he said. “My job is to take the ball and get the job done right now. That’s my job. If they want me to relieve three days from now, I will do it. If they want me to start four days after that, I’ll gladly do it. Just give me the ball and let me get the job done.”

Twitter: @cmccosky