Clearwater, Fla. – Do you trust it? Did he show you enough at the end of last season to believe that this, the way he has breezed through most of his spring training starts, is who Matthew Boyd is?
Because the Detroit Tigers left-hander has had another stellar spring training, just like he did last season when he essentially out-pitched Anibal Sanchez for the final spot in the rotation.
He allowed a run over 4.2 innings Thursday in the Tigers’ 6-2 spring win over the Phillies. It was far from a perfect outing. You wouldn’t even call it dominating. He was just efficient and in control – until his very bizarre ejection with two outs in the fifth.
“That might be the first one I’ve ever seen,” Boyd said of a spring ejection. “Crazy stuff, I guess.”
Let’s start with that. Boyd was cruising. He had allowed five hits, just one extra-base hit, with three strikeouts. And, until Odubel Herrera came to bat with two outs in the fifth, he had faced just two three-ball counts.
The Tigers have had history with Herrera, but it’s ancient history. And Boyd wasn’t involved.
“Huh?” he said, when asked about the game back in 2016 when the Tigers got irked by an exuberant bat-flip by Herrera. “I don’t remember that. I wasn’t there for that.”
Boyd sailed an 0-1 slider over Herrera’s head – way over, all the way to the screen.
“I looked up in mid-delivery and he was bailing out of the box,” Boyd said. “Like he wasn’t ready or something and the pitch just slipped.”
Two pitches later, on a 3-2 count, he appeared to clip Herrera on the wrist with an inside, two-seam fastball. Although, afterward, Herrera said the pitch never hit him.
"He tried to hit me, but he can't," Herrera playfully told reporters. "I'm too quick for that."
Said Boyd: “The guy just dives. I wasn’t trying to hit him. The guy dives across the plate and you get him out with two-seams in. It just ran in and he dived out.”
Home plate umpire Tom Hallion immediately ejected Boyd, who threw up his arms in disbelief and manager Ron Gardenhire argued loudly but to no avail.
“I have no clue,” Gardenhire said when asked how he avoided ejection. “I’ve never made it through an argument like that without getting pitched. It’s just the new me, I guess (chuckles).”
Gardenhire echoed Boyd’s take on it. Herrera was ducking out of the box on the first one, and the pitch that allegedly hit him wasn’t that bad of a pitch.
“It wasn’t on purpose,” Boyd said. “I certainly wasn’t trying to throw at his head. Ridiculous. You don’t want to hurt somebody.”
That ejection was the catalyst for two more by Hallion. Later in the game, he ejected minor-league pitcher Parker Frazier for hitting Tigers minor-leaguer Derek Hill in the leg.
Another Phillies minor-leaguer was ejected in the eighth inning, as well. Pure insanity. There was no bad blood between the teams, no intent on the pitchers.
“It was crazy,” Gardenhire said. “Once the precedent was decided that he thought Boyd threw at him, I guess (Hallion) decided he had to (eject the others). He set the tone and that was it.”
Gardenhire asked if Hallion provided an explanation?
“He said, ‘I know when somebody is throwing at somebody,’” he said. “That’s what he thought.”
Gardenhire said he understands trying to protect players from getting hurt and nobody wants to see anything get out of hand, especially in a spring game. But there was no intention, by pitchers from either team.
“It’s just about pitching,” he said. “We’re just trying to get pitchers through innings and now we’re getting them all thrown out of the game. And I am sure (the Phillies) are saying the same thing, too.
“We’re just trying to get pitchers through innings and survive.”
But back to Boyd. On 15 of the 20 batters he faced, he started them off with fastballs, either two-seamers or four-seamers. He had been developing a pattern of throwing too many off-speed and breaking pitches and, especially in his previous start, hitters were sitting on them.
“He can pitch with his fastball,” Gardenhire said. “After his last outing, that’s what we talked about. You have to pitch off your fastball. It can’t be off your other stuff. I thought he was great.
“I thought he was pouring it in there, challenging hitters – exactly what we wanted. Exactly the way I envision him pitching.”
Boyd threw 79 pitches, 54 strikes. His command was sharp. And the few times he fell behind, he used his curve-ball and change-up to get himself back into the count – a pitcher’s pitch in a hitter’s count.
“I was working on everything, using everything and that was the goal today,” he said. “I threw a lot of fastballs today, two- and four-seam, using both sides of the plate, up and down.
“I was happy with my command, happy how we used everything. It was a good outing.”
Boyd has one more spring start left, and it will probably be in the final exhibition game, which would slot him toward the back of the Tigers’ rotation. He’s pitched well enough to probably warrant the No. 3 spot in the rotation.
But do you trust it? He was arguably the best pitcher last spring, too, and he wound up back at Triple-A Toledo in June after struggling through May. Boyd gets the skepticism, but he said he’s not the same guy.
“I threw well last spring, but I didn’t really understand my game,” he said. “I was just trying to hold on to what I was doing, not realizing what was bringing me success.”
He was just pitching. The results were good, but the foundation wasn’t fully set. And thus, when things started going bad, he couldn’t find his footing right away.
“I was having success but I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. “I didn’t understand what the foundations of my game were. It’s easy to roll when everything feels good. But when you struggle, and you don’t have that foundation, you start searching for stuff.”
The foundation is firm now. Boyd credits pitching coach Chris Bosio for giving him a good understanding of what he needs to do to be successful. If he falters this year, he doesn't expect to free-fall.
“I’m still a work in progress,” Boyd said. “I will always be a work in progress. But I like where everything is right now.”