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Offseason work pays off for Tigers' Matthew Boyd; Niko Goodrum stays hot

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Matthew Boyd

Sarasota, Fla. – There are no lengths Matthew Boyd won’t go to improve himself. We already know that. From buying his own workout machines, a pure air apparatus and pitch analyzing equipment, to using DNA-testing to monitor his diet and hiring a performance coach – he leaves no stone unturned.

No perceived shortcoming gets left unattended.

Last season, after the Cleveland Indians picked up something in his delivery, teams suddenly started stealing bases off him – 18 out of 20 were successful.

So, what did he do? This offseason, he called the coach who taught him his pick-off move way back when he was 11 years old – Mark Yoshino, now the head coach at Bellevue Community College in Oregon.

BOX SCORE: Orioles 7, Tigers 5

“I didn’t change my move, I just started developing some bad habits,” said Boyd, who allowed one run in three innings Sunday in the Tigers’ 7-5 split-squad loss to the Orioles. “I gave Mark a call and worked out with him a few times.

“He came up with some cues. Just working on every little craft, right? If you can steal an out when it counts the most, then it’s worth it.”

He used the move in the first inning and froze Jonathan Villar. A good throw might have had him picked off, but it was a little high and Villar snuck back to the base. He wound up stealing second, but he did that on an off-speed pitch in the dirt.

"Teams picked up on a few things with him last year and we had to get him to mix it up," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "When you get locked in one way, doing the same thing every time, people are going to see it. There's so much video.

"Just mix it up. Use a slide-step, pick it up slow once and hang -- he can do all those things."

When asked what he tweaked in the move, Boyd said, smiling, “We’ll let other people try to figure that out.”

But he was adamant that the Indians weren’t the catalyst for calling Yoshino.

“No, forget about Cleveland, I shouldn’t have even mentioned Cleveland,” he said. “It’s just something I got away from. It has always been a weapon for me, every year in the minors and through college. I have the ability.

“And if I have the ability to get another out at any time, it’s a weapon. It’s nice to have that.”

It was a productive outing for Boyd, all the way around. With his fastball hitting 93 and 94 mph on the stadium radar gun, he needed just 24 pitches to get through the first two innings.

He had to work a lot harder in the third inning.

“You never want to struggle, but situations like that – whether they are self-inflicted or out of your control – are going to arise,” Boyd said. “So it’s nice to keep your cool, breathe, and focus on what you are doing.

“And that’s attacking the glove, and nothing means more than this pitch.”

Boyd gave up a home run to Austin Hays, on a high, 3-2 fastball, leading off the third. Then he fell behind Anthony Santander and gave up a double.

After walking Villar, though, Boyd got the next three outs, striking out Chris Davis and Renato Nunez with runners at second and third.

“When I got hit, they were mistakes and they were up (in the strike zone),” said Boyd, who wound up throwing 53 pitches and 32 strikes. “The home run, I left it up when tried to throw it down. But that’s what happens when you go to a full count.

“There are always things you can work on and get better at, but I was happy today.”

Gardenhire thinks the up-tick in velocity Sunday was legit. 

"He really bowed his neck in that situation," he said. "He reared back and threw some fastballs and some really nice change-ups. When he wanted to, he let it fly."

Boyd wasn't hitting 93-94 mph until deep into the regular season last year.

"I'm feeling good," he said.

Niko Goodrum

Stop it, Niko

Niko Goodrum, who started at first base, continues to pound the baseball this spring. He has hit safely in five of the six games he’s played now after hitting a three-run home run and two singles Sunday.

“I’m just trying to get a pitch to drive,” said Goodrum, who is now 8-for-15 this spring. “I am not trying to do too much, just whatever the situation calls for. If there’s a runner at second, get him to third or get him in.

“Not simple, but small things. Not trying to go outside myself.”

His home run, off Orioles starter Andrew Cashner, came on a 1-2 fastball. His second hit was also a two-strike knock, on a breaking ball. Goodrum said he has put more emphasis on developing his two-strike approach.

“I just choke up some and try to stay middle and see the ball here (deeper)," he said. "Before two strikes, I try to let it eat a little bit and try to get extended and hit it a little more out front. But when I get two strikes, I am just trying to see something."

Most times, he's thinking fastball with two strikes and adjusting to the breaking balls and off-speed pitches.

"When you put the ball in play, good stuff happens,” he said. “You strike out, nothing good happens. Just trying to put it in play. I’m getting older, too, and more mature (at the plate). (Cashner) showed me pretty much everything he had. I saw the heater, I saw the curve and I saw the change-up.

“I saw them before, so I kind of just picked it up early.”

Outfield prospect Danny Woodrow and Dustin Peterson each had two hits. Peterson, claimed off waivers from the Braves, is now 7-for-16 this spring.   

Tigers right-hander Victor Alcantara, who had not given up a run in his early outings, was touched for a three-run home run by Santander in the fourth inning.

The Orioles scored twice off Gregory Soto in the eighth.

Over in Tampa

Left-hander Daniel Norris was feeling bad before the start, and probably worse after. He gave up three home runs (two to Brett Gardner and one to Aaron Judge) in 1.2 innings of work in a 7-1 loss.

“I just haven’t felt good in a couple of days,” Norris told reporters. “Just trying to throw strikes and stay out of the middle of the zone, which I didn't do very good today obviously. A few home runs, so I have to not do that again.”

He wound up throwing 47 pitches, 26 strikes. His fastball velocity was 89-91 mph.

“I thought I was more in control the second inning and I made some pitches, good curveballs and changeups,” he said. “And then the home run obviously dampened that. But it's a game of adjustments. I felt like I made that, just minus one pitch there.”

Twitter @cmccosky