Tigers' Matthew Boyd, Matt Manning take lessons from 4-0 spring loss

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
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Lakeland, Fla. — Baseball is intriguing on so many levels, even in an otherwise drowsy, mid-camp Grapefruit League game like the Tigers 4-0 loss to the Blue Jays on Monday at Joker Marchant Stadium.

Before the game, manager AJ Hinch was asked what he hoped to see out of lefty Matthew Boyd, who was making his third start of the spring.

Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd, shown here last week, pitched four innings Monday against the Blue Jays. He allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits and a walk.

“Pound the strike zone and attack with fastballs,” Hinch said. “Leverage matters to him a lot because he can expose it with so many pitches. I’d like to see him pitch ahead (in the count) and pitch aggressively with fastballs.”

Hinch’s point about Boyd pitching with leverage, pitching ahead in the count, is spot-on. In 2019, Boyd pitched ahead in the count (0-1, 0-2, 1-2) to 283 batters and behind in the count to 227. Opponents hit .158 with a .436 OPS when he had leverage; .324 with a 1.127 OPS when the hitter had leverage.

In 2020, Boyd pitched behind more than twice as often as he pitched ahead — 253 plate appearances behind, 100 ahead — as his 6.71 ERA reflected. When he had leverage, opponents hit .253 with a .787 OPS; when the hitters had the advantage, they hit .333 with a 1.20 OPS.

So, Boyd goes into the game Monday against a young, aggressive Blue Jays lineup bent on establishing his fastball. First hitter, Jonathan Davis unloads on a 94-mph fastball, exit velocity 105 mph, 407-foot home run. Next batter, Teoscar Hernandez, first pitch fastball, flyout to right, but with an exit velocity of 101 mph.

Third hitter, Rowdy Tellez, nearly knocks shortstop Willi Castro, who was shifted to the right side, into right field with a 113-mph bullet. Somehow Castro blocked it and made the play to first.  Second inning, Santiago Espinal drilled a single, exit velocity of 100-mph.

Time to scrap the initial plan? Not exactly.

“I wouldn’t say that the fastball wasn’t good,” Boyd said. “I just think it was their gameplan. These are big-league hitters and they were swinging at three or four first-pitch fastballs. They went out to attack the fastball. And it’s our job to counter.”

Which is exactly what Boyd and catcher Wilson Ramos did. Boyd started using his slider and change-up combination and dispatched eight of the last nine hitters he faced. He used just one fastball in a clean, 13-pitch third inning. But they didn’t scrap the fastball.

With the Blue Jays adjusting to the breaking balls and off-speed stuff, Boyd unsheathed his fastball. He ended his day by striking out Espinal on three pitches, the last whiffing on a fastball up in the zone.

“This was a lot of fun,” Boyd said. “This is the kind of spring game that can really be beneficial because it’s very realistic to what’s going to happen in a (regular-season game). You go out, make adjustments and keep moving forward.”

Boyd threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of the 15 batters he faced — gaining his leverage. He allowed just the one earned run and struck out four, getting through his four innings in 60 pitches.

“I felt really good,” Boyd said. “I wouldn’t put too much focus on my fastball, in and of itself. They’re good hitters and they were trying to get to the fastball early. But the effectiveness of it showed later in that fourth inning when I threw a few fastballs and guys were underneath it and late to it off the breaking balls.”

Teaching moment

Ramos might’ve experienced some déjà vu in the fifth inning when the Blue Jays stole three bases, getting huge jumps off Tigers pitching prospect Matt Manning.

“That’s something he needs to work on,” Ramos said afterward. “As a catcher we need help from the pitchers. That happened with me the last two years with the Mets. They have a big problem holding runners.

"When I see that here, I'm going to be able to talk to him.”

Ramos, who between 2014 and 2016 threw out an average of 39% of runners trying to steal, threw out just 23 of 145 (16%) in his two seasons with the Mets.

Blue Jays speedy centerfielder Forrest Wall stole second and third in the fifth. His running lead off second was so huge, Ramos didn’t even bother to throw to third. Later Jonathan Davis stole second rather easily, again getting a big jump.

“It’s a learning curve for (Manning), but he’s so athletic, it’s going to be something that’s easy for him to pick up,” Hinch said. “It's one of the many things you see from these younger players who didn’t get to pitch last year in a competitive environment.

“You miss a year, you miss a year of some small things around the margins that really matter a lot. It didn’t really surprise me, given his lack of pitching. But it’s an obvious teaching point for him.”

Manning bent but didn’t break. He ended up allowing three hits and walk, but no runs with two strikeouts in his two innings. His fastball ranged from 94-97 mph and he threw nine sliders, which is a fast-developing weapon for him.

Long road back

Right-hander Franklin Perez, once the top prospect the Tigers got back from Houston in the Justin Verlander trade, threw 20 pitches in his two-thirds of an inning. He did inch his fastball up to 90 mph (he hit 91.7 once) but it’s clear it’s going to be a long road back to where he was before missing the better part of two years with shoulder injuries.

“It’s going to be a slow climb to get him back to where he’s supposed to be,” Hinch said. “But as long as he’s climbing, we’re going to continue to develop and continue to advance He doesn’t have to throw 95-97 right now.

“He’s healthy and we’ll keep putting challenges in front of him to see if he can take another step forward.”

Hinch took him out after he recorded his second strikeout of the inning (after two runs were scored). It not only facilitated non-roster lefty Miguel Del Pozo’s first game action, but Hinch allowed Perez to walk off on a positive note.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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