Detroit — In the visitors' dugout at Comerica Park on Monday night, just a couple hours before the opener of a three-game series, Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch and his ace — who used to be your ace — were raving about one Matthew Boyd.
"I know how talented he is," said Justin Verlander, a former teammate of Boyd's with the Tigers. "I'm excited to see him pitch tonight."
Good thing Verlander didn't get caught in traffic.
Boyd, one of the major leagues' best pitchers this season, suffered his shortest outing, just four labor-intensive innings that featured two mammoth home runs, in the Tigers' 8-1 loss to the Astros.
Before Monday, Boyd had gone at least six innings in seven consecutive starts, and hadn't gone fewer since he went five in his first start of the season, in March.
"A lot of pitches, they made him work," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He had a high pitch count the whole day.
"He wasn't on his best game tonight."
An excruciating second inning did in Boyd, who got the first two hitters rather easily, then allowed a bomb of a home run to left by Aledmys Diaz.
After a walk to Tyler White, Robinson Chirnos got Boyd again, with a shot deep into the seats in right-center.
Both home runs came off fastballs, the first which Boyd threw inside after catcher Grayson Greiner's called for a fastball away.
"I shook Gary off," Boyd said. "That's on me."
Boyd (4-3) had allowed just three home runs all season, and never more than one in a start, coming into this one.
It was that stat that had Hinch suggesting, before the game, how Boyd is built for this ballpark — a flyball pitcher in a stadium where fly balls go to die.
Not on this night, though, as the Astros slugged four home runs in all, including a seventh-inning shot to left by Jake Marisnick off Victor Alcantara.
If you were scoring at home, first, why? Second, that was three home runs from the bottom four spots in the Astros' lineup. That third home run sent the patrons speed-walking to the exits — and, as an added bonus, spared them from seeing the fourth homer, a ninth-inning blast by Alex Bregman off Reed Garrett.
Boyd was long gone by then, too, and actually only allowed three runs on the night. But he couldn't make it past the fourth with stressful second and third innings pushing his pitch count to 96 by the time he was done. Boyd lobbed for one more inning, to no avail.
All in all, the short outing was the last thing Gardenhire wanted to see when his team was coming off four games in three days over the weekend in Minnesota. The Tigers' rotation is massively injury-depleted and super-thin, and the bullpen is way too taxed.
Stay tuned for the ripple effect on that one, especially with no logical starting candidate readily available for Wednesday — making that a likely bullpen game.
"We'll ad-lib," Gardenhire said.
Meanwhile, the Tigers' offense, as so often has been the case, was a snoozer against Brad Peacock (4-2) and a four-pack of Astros relievers. One was Ryan Pressly, who extended his franchise-record scoreless streak to 36 innings; it dates back to Aug. 15. Detroit managed just five hits, including two by just-reinstated Josh Harrison — a single and a double in his return from a shoulder bruise.
Grayson Greiner's sacrifice fly made it 3-1 in the fourth, but that was it.
The top four in the Tigers' lineup went hitless, with Nick Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera combining to go 0-for-8.
Still, since this is a rebuilding year and we're always on the lookout for glass-half-full nuggets, there were highlights on this night, even if you needed a magnifying glass to identify them.
Let's start with shortstop Ronny Rodriguez, who has been hot at the plate — but for this one, dazzled with his glove. Bridging the fifth and sixth innings, he turned in three consecutive fine players on defense, and later added a single and a stolen base to try to get something going in the sixth — only to be stranded. Rodriguez made it a two-hit night with another single in the eighth for his sixth multi-hit game of the month.
Then there was Zac Reininger, just back from Toledo, where apparently he decided to not pack his 14.85 ERA. Reinstated with Tyson Ross on the injured last, Reininger tossed two perfect innings to keep things close in relief of Boyd.
"That was really cool to see," Boyd said of Reininger's work, which came just four days after Reininger was last demoted — a turnaround so quick, he didn't unpack in Toledo.
But a loss is a loss, and this one one marked the eighth consecutive time Detroit has followed a win with a loss. The Tigers haven't won two straight since sweeping a doubleheader in Boston on April 23.