Tigers' Matthew Boyd showcases live fastball, deadly slider solid in spring debut

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — As you might’ve guessed, Matthew Boyd was the first Tigers’ pitcher to experiment with calling some of his own pitches from the mound using PitchCom technology.

He did so in his spring debut Thursday, putting the whole Matthew Boyd experience -- the nasty slider, the pickoff move, the punch-outs, even the home run ball -- in two strong innings in the Tigers’ 10-3 exhibition romp over the Orioles at Joker Marchant Stadium.

“I did what I wanted for the most part,” he said. “The only pitch I didn’t throw was the curveball. But I got into some situations that I wasn’t in during the live bullpens. All in all, it was good.”

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Matthew Boyd throws against the Baltimore Orioles during the first inning of a spring training baseball game Thursday, March 2, 2023, in Lakeland, Fla.

Boyd, who is back in the Tigers’ rotation after a year away (with the Giants and Mariners), struck out four in his two innings, carving up Orioles’ hitters with sliders and changeups thrown off a lively four-seam fastball that sat 93 mph with a better-than-average spin rate of 2,527 rpm.

More:BOX SCORE: Detroit 10, Baltimore 3

“Was it up,” Boyd asked of his fastball spin rate. “That’s awesome. After I was cleared (after flexor tendon) surgery, doing forearm work has been more of a foundation in my training regimen. I’ve got to pay attention to that now. I’ve done more work on it than ever in my career.

“I saw the difference last year and given that it’s still there now, that’s awesome.”

The slider has long been the weapon of choice for Boyd. Hitters in 2019 swung and missed at 43.6% of the sliders he threw. He had a 39.4% whiff rate in 2020, before the injuries started to pile up. He refined the pitch last season, first when he was rehabbing with the Giants and then when he got back on the mound in September with the Mariners.

 He threw 10 of them at the Orioles. He got three swings and misses on four swings and six called strikes.

More:Spring dingers: Tigers continue to flex home run power, hit three more vs. O's

“If you look back on the years that I had a lot of success with the swing and miss, a lot of it was based on being able to throw the slider for a strike and also being able to expand with it on 0-2, 1-2 counts,” he said. “That was big today. A lot of the work that’s gone in mechanically has been to get that pitch back to that level.

“I’m happy where it’s at, where it was today.”

He also reminded runners across the league that his pickoff move is still elite. He walked Ryan McKenna to start the game then promptly picked him off.

“Controlling the running game is going to be huge,” he said. “Everything is based off that, right, with the pitch clock and the bigger bases. The clock running down gives runners a chance to get a better jump. Being able to do what is in our control to control the running game is going to be paramount.”

The only real blemish in his outing was a 2-1 fastball that Adley Rutschman slammed onto the berm in left field in the first inning. It was Beaver on Beaver crime; both Boyd and Rutschman are Oregon State alums, albeit several years apart.

“I know him pretty well,” Boyd said. “It’s unfortunate that he hit the homer (laughs). But that’s what happens when you throw a 2-1 fastball to a really good hitter after missing with two straight off-speed pitches. That’s what he does to those kinds of fastballs.

“But shame on me for missing those two changeups.”

Boyd threw 37 pitches to catcher Jake Rogers in his two innings and he estimated that he may have used the PitchCom three or four times total.

“You’re never going to replace the catcher’s intellect or their pespective on the game,” Boyd said. “What Roj sees, what Eric (Haase) or Donny (Sands) sees when they are back there – they know what my stuff is doing sometimes better than I do. They get to see the tail end of it.

“The last thing you want to do is take that away.”

Still, Boyd sees where it can come in handy.

“There were certain situations when I was like, ‘I just want to get right to this pitch,’” he said. “With the 20 second clock and you start shaking off signs, the PitchCom is not the fastest thing in the world. It’s a matter of, ‘Let’s just go to this, I know what I want and bam (hit the buttons).”

Case in point, he threw two sliders that missed the zone to Franchy Cordero. There was no doubt what he was throwing on 2-0, another slider. So he didn’t have to wait for Rogers to hit the buttons.

Major League Baseball has yet to approve the pitcher PitchCom for regular season use. It’s being used on an experimental basis this spring in both Florida and Arizona. Truth be told, Hinch isn’t a fan of pitchers calling pitches.

“Those guys aren’t going to call their own game on the mound,” he said. “But it’s there for the times they need it or if they want to make a quick suggestion. It’s not something I feel strongly that we should implement.”