Minneapolis – Matt Boyd threw his first change-up of the night on his 14th and last pitch of the first inning Tuesday.
Brian Dozier was on second base with two outs and he threw a 93 mph fastball to Kennys Vargas for strike one. He came back with an 80 mph change-up and Vargas swung too early and hit a roll-over ground out to shortstop.
Boyd noticed something a little different with that change-up. It faded away from the right-hand hitting Vargas, acting almost like a screwball.
“It was fading more than usual,” Boyd said. “I just used it to our advantage.”
That he did. It may have been his best start of his young career, all things considered. He needed only 99 pitches to work a career-long eight innings, and he yielded just three hits and struck out seven. He threw 19 first-pitch strikes to 27 batters.
“Salty (catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia) called a great game,” Boyd said after the Tigers’ 8-1 win. “He had us working both sides of the plate with all four pitches. And at some point in the game, all four were working.”
Rookie Michael Fulmer has drawn a lot of praise, deservedly so, for the rapid development of his change-up. Boyd’s change-up, perhaps a more effective and necessary weapon in his arsenal than it is in Fulmer’s, hasn’t gotten much acclaim.
But that’s probably because he’s featured it his whole life.
“I was real fortunate,” he said. “My dad was my pitching coach all the way up to high school, since I was like eight or nine years old. Everybody else was throwing curveballs, I was only allowed to throw change-ups – until I got into high school.
“I like to think he taught me it and I’d like to think that’s why I have so much confidence in it.”
This season, he’s thrown the change-up 16 percent of the time and opponents are hitting .211 against it (according to Brooks Baseball). The pitch is being swing and missed 22 percent of the time.
He threw 19 change-ups Tuesday without giving up a hit. He got four swing and misses.
“His slider can be a swing-and-miss pitch, too,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “And his change-up is so darn slow. It’s 15 miles an hour off his fastball. That's a big difference. And if he's throwing it well with fastball arm speed, it's probably one of the bigger gaps in the Major Leagues in terms of velocity.”
Boyd will occasionally drop an 80 mph change-up off a 95 mph four-seam fastball, which he did in the seventh inning against Robbie Grossman (four pitches before Grossman ruined his shutout with a homer).
But on average, his fastball is 92 and the change-up 79. Ausmus’ point stands. And with the fading, screwball action he had on it Tuesday night – it was an unhittable pitch.
“He got a lot of ugly swings,” Saltalamacchia said. “Which tells you his stuff was good.”
He was good enough to post his first complete game, but Ausmus was already thinking ahead to Boyd’s next start – which will be against the Royals this weekend.
“If it was a shutout, I would've thought about (letting him finish),” Ausmus said. “But he had done his job. I was ready to put someone else in. I didn't want his pitch count getting too high. He's going to have to pitch again in five days.”
Boyd understood, though he was hungry to finish.
“There’s always a lot of pride in that,” Boyd said. “You always want to finish your game. That’s the goal. But that day will come. It’s not my call to stay in the game or not. I maybe could have been more convincing and did more to go back out there.”
Eight innings, three hits, one run – he did plenty.
Since the All-Star break, Boyd is 6-2 with a 3.29 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 63 innings. He, along with Fulmer and Daniel Norris have provided an unexpected life raft for the rotation.
The Tigers are 34-18 in their starts, and they are combined 19-13 with a 3.50 ERA.