Bounce-back effort by Boyd helps Tigers snap Royals' win streak

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Maybe it’s a split-personality thing with Matthew Boyd. Because the left-handed pitcher wearing No. 48 Tuesday scarcely resembled the guy who got tagged for seven runs and needed 78 pitches to get nine outs a week ago against the Brewers.

This Boyd, the one who helped the Tigers snap the Kansas City Royals’ six-game win streak 6-0 Tuesday looked like the ace of staff the Tigers have been waiting to see this season.

Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd works in the first inning.

"It's just about understanding who you are and getting better at that day in and day out," said Boyd, who blanked the Royals on two hits over 5⅔ innings. "That's what we've been doing. My preparation between starts wasn't a whole lot different. It was a matter of execution in that last start.

"I didn't lose the ability to throw my fastball down and away, I just didn't do it in my last start. So, it's, OK, let's get back to it."

Boyd had five strikeouts and got 11 swings and misses with 14 called strikes. He did walk four, including the last two hitters he faced in the sixth inning. But none led to any damage.

"Matty is one of our veteran pitchers so I expect that kind of (bounce-back) from him," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's been doing that since I got here, just learn from the last one and move on."

Two at-bats helped shape the night for Boyd.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 6, Royals 0

Whit Merrifield, as he seems to always do against the Tigers, led off the game with a double. He stole third base but with one out tried to score standing up on a ground ball to shortstop. Willi Castro’s throw got to catcher Austin Romine in plenty of time.

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Boyd wasn't out of the soup just yet. He walked Maikel Franco, losing an eight-pitch battle, but got Hunter Dozier to ground out to end the inning.

In the third inning, Salvador Perez doubled with two outs. The Tigers were up 3-0 and first base was open. When Boyd fell behind Franco 3-0, it seemed he would just use the open base and pitch around the dangerous Franco.

Boyd did no such thing. He got himself back in the count with a fastball (called strike) and a slider (swing and miss). After fouling off a 3-2 fastball, Franco was out front on a change-up and lined out to center.

"That was good," Boyd said. "That guy handles off-speed in the zone really well and I threw a change-up that I could've thrown been better, but I got a swing and he hit it right at Rey-Rey (center fielder Victor Reyes). 

"That's a tough play, line drive right at you and he had a beat on it."

The speed differential on Boyd's last two pitches to Franco was 14 mph — 92 on the fastball and 78 on the change-up. 

That was the first of 10 straight outs for Boyd.

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"If we were going to pitch around a guy, Gardy or Romey would let us know and we'd put him on," Boyd said. "My job was to get that out. I fell behind but I came right back."

What had failed him against the Brewers was his best weapon in this one — his fastball command. He spotted his four-seamer (91-93 mph) in all quadrants of the plate. He threw 58 of them and got three swing-and-misses and 12 called strikes.

Tigers designated hitter Miguel Cabrera rounds the bases on his solo home run in the third inning.

He got five whiffs with 26 change-ups, and he mixed in 11 sliders and 10 curveballs. The average exit velocity on 14 balls put in play against him was a mild 89 mph.

It was Boyd's second win and it "lowered" his ERA to 6.75. But that's not how Boyd will define this season.

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"Mostly from what happened earlier (three rocky starts), my eyes were open and I've grown from that," he said. "I'm using all my pitches now. I am commanding my fastball and doing things I didn't do in the years past that's making me a complete pitcher.

"The stat line won't tell you that."

The Tigers offense gave him plenty of cushion, too.

The Royals made a last-minute pitching change before the game, starting right-hander Jakub Junis in place of lefty Danny Duffy, who missed the team plane to Detroit. Junis had won five straight starts at Comerica Park, but this wasn’t the same guy the Tigers had faced in the past.

They pounced on early, scoring three times in the first inning on a two-out, RBI single by Niko Goodrum, first game back off the injured list, and a two-run single by former Royal Jorge Bonifacio.

"It feels good to beat them," said Bonifacio, who ended up with two hits against the team that released him last year. "I was a little more focused today for sure and I thank God for the opportunity."

The Tigers knocked Junis out of the game in the third. Miguel Cabrera whacked a 90-mph fastball into the right-field seats. It was the 483rd home run of his career and sixth of the season. Cabrera walked three times and doubled in the game. His double left his bat with an exit velocity of 112 mph — the hardest he’s hit a ball since 2018.

Jeimer Candelario, fresh off American League Player of the Week honors, and Goodrum followed Cabrera’s homer with singles to end Junis’ night. Candelario, who scored on a sacrifice fly by Austin Romine, had three hits and raised his batting average to .333.

Castro got a vote of confidence from the organization earlier in the day when manager Ron Gardenhire announced that Goodrum, who had started 29 games at shortstop, would be playing at second base. That meant Castro would remain at shortstop.

He responded with three hits, including his fourth home run of the year — an opposite-field blast off reliever Matt Harvey in the sixth inning. Castro raised his average to .352. 

"He's proving he can hit at this level," Gardenhire said. "He's been doing it for a while, since we called him up, so it's not a fluke thing. He's getting more and more comfortable."

The Tigers' bullpen was flawless, too. Jose Cisnero cleaned up the sixth inning for Boyd and pitched and struck out the side in the seventh. Buck Farmer and Bryan Garcia worked scoreless eighth and ninth innings, respectively, completing the Tigers' first shutout of the season.

The win snapped a three-game losing skid for the Tigers (21-26).

Twitter: @cmccosky