Sarasota, Fla. — It almost seemed like a victory lap for Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd.
“No, no,” Boyd said with a sheepish grin. “It’s just trying to get better and build off what you’ve done before. There is always something you can get better at.”
Hard to imagine Boyd being much better than he was this spring. A day after learning he had won the fifth spot in the Tigers’ rotation, Boyd punctuated the Tigers’ decision with four more scoreless innings.
“Very humbling,” Boyd said of winning the job. “Very grateful to be in this rotation. It’s something you dream about, to get to jog out on opening day when they announce your name. I got to go to three or four Mariners’ openers when my dad would take me out of school.
“It was a holiday basically. Just the coolest thing. I am very honored. It’s very special to me.”
Working with a 50-pitch limit, he allowed two singles and a walk in the Tigers’ 7-3 win over the Orioles. On his 50th pitch, he induced a 5-4-3 double play out of slugger Mark Trumbo.
“Mentally, I just have more confidence in my whole game, and just working on it with Alex (Avila), James (McCann) and (Rich) Dubee,” Boyd said. “The mechanics I learned at the end of last year, it’s just being more comfortable and knowing you belong.
“I’m going out and attacking, being the one who throws the first punch instead of being on my heels.”
The one walk, to Chris Davis on a good-looking 3-2 slider, was his only walk of the spring.
“I wasn’t thinking about it until James came into the locker room and said, ‘I blew it for you,’” Boyd said. “I said, ‘No you didn’t, that’s on me.’”
Boyd pitched 25.2 innings this spring and allowed six runs, with 23 strikeouts and just that one walk.
He got seven ground-ball outs in four innings Thursday, but he cautioned against reading much into that.
“A lot of times guys’ swings are going to dictate that,” he said. “It’s awesome to get ground balls when you are living down in the (strike) zone. At the same time, there has to be another side to that — the hitter. I wouldn’t put too much weight on that.”
As long as the contact is weak, it can go in the air or on the ground.
“Exactly,” he said.
His most impressive confrontation may have been with Orioles’ All-Star Adam Jones in the fourth inning. He threw him two slow curves to start the at-bat, getting a called strike and an ugly half-swing on the other.
He missed with a change-up, got a late-swing, foul ball on a slider and then put Jones away swinging at a four-seam fastball high and outside.
The Tigers bopped Orioles’ starter Dylan Bundy with three home runs.
Omar Infante, who was re-assigned to minor-league camp earlier in the week, hit a solo shot in the first. Tyler Collins hit a two-run blast in the third off a high change-up that nearly hit the scoreboard behind the right-center field fence. And McCann hit a solo homer in the fourth.
Anibal Sanchez, whom Boyd bested for the fifth rotation spot, gave up a home run to Davis on the first pitch he threw Thursday, but gave up very little else over the next four innings. He will work in long relief and be the team’s No. 6 starter.
“Both Boyd and Sanchy pitched well,” manager Brad Ausmus said when asked if Boyd’s performance validated his decision. “Even before today I was comfortable with the decision, or I wouldn’t have made it.”
There was a scary moment in the seventh inning. JaCoby Jones, who appears likely to be the Tigers’ opening day center fielder, and Alex Presley chased the same wind-blown fly ball to the wall in left-center and collided.
Jones hung on to the ball and both were OK.
“That was a tough play,” Ausmus said. “They were approaching the wall and the ball was being pushed by the wind toward Presley. Find me a team that doesn’t have two outfielders collide during the season. You just hope that there’s no injury involved.
“But it’s bound to happen.”