Three ways of looking at Matthew Boyd's second start for Detroit Tigers in 2021

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Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press
·6 min read
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In his first two starts of 2021, Detroit Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd nearly knocked off both the first- and second-place finishers in last year's American League Cy Young race.

Boyd dethroned Cleveland ace Shane Bieber — the unanimous Cy Yong winner in 2020 — on Opening Day, leading the Tigers to a 3-2 victory.

Six days later, Boyd outlasted — and arguably out pitched — Minnesota Twins top starter Kenta Maeda, who finished second in the 2020 voting. But the Tigers came up short on gambles in the sixth inning, twice getting thrown out at home plate, and lost 3-2 in the series finale.

"He demonstrated today that controlling the strike zone is really key," Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Wednesday. "He did an excellent job of giving us a chance to win."

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With that said, here are three ways of looking at Boyd's second start for the Tigers:

Lots of strikes

Facing a tough Twins lineup, headlined by slugger Nelson Cruz, Boyd pitched fearlessly. He hammered the strike zone, throwing strikes on 77 of his 96 pitches. Of the 27 batters he faced, 24 saw first-pitch strikes.

The first 1-0 count came in the sixth inning, to Kyle Garlick with two outs. Still, he battled back to get ahead 1-2 in the count before allowing a single on a 2-2 fastball.

"Miss with a fastball and let that inning kind of extend," Boyd said, explaining why Garlick's base hit was more devastating than the two-RBI double he allowed later that inning to Jorge Polanco. "He hit my pitch. He got me there. That was kind of a change in the inning there. Not that it carried over mentally, but if you go back and pinpoint it, that's the one I want back."

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Boyd put the 10 of the first 14 batters in 0-2 counts. During this span, he got first-pitch outs against Byron Buxton and Willians Astudillo in the second inning, and Cruz in the fourth.

In the third inning, Jake Cave worked a 1-1 count before Boyd struck him out swinging with a 92.7 mph fastball.

Throwing quality strikes early in counts helped Boyd utilize his entire arsenal. He implemented a healthy mix of his four-seam fastball (35 pitches), changeup (29) and slider (27), tossing in five curveballs.

"When you pound the strike zone with that kind of conviction, good things can happen when you have your good stuff," Hinch said.

Boyd earned 13 swings-and-misses and 23 called strikes against one of the top teams in the AL Central.

Best since 2019?

For the first time since Aug. 18, 2019, against the Tampa Bay Rays, Boyd completed the seventh inning. He finished with three earned runs on seven hits, zero walks and eight strikeouts.

Despite Boyd's disappointment about a few Garlick at-bats, he said is "grateful" for the positive takeaways.

"There's a lot of good," Boyd said. "It was awesome to get through seven. I'm just thinking about what we could've done better."

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Tigers manager AJ Hinch watches from the dugout during the third inning on Wednesday, April 7, 2021, at Comerica Park.
Tigers manager AJ Hinch watches from the dugout during the third inning on Wednesday, April 7, 2021, at Comerica Park.

Last season, Boyd battled injuries and finished his 12 starts with a 6.71 ERA, 22 walks and 60 strikeouts in 60⅓ innings. He gave up an MLB-leading 45 earned runs and 15 home runs, to go with a miserable 1.475 WHIP.

But after two starts in 2021, Boyd looks much better.

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"What he did today is exactly the type of conviction that we want to have as a pitching staff in general," Hinch said, "but specifically Matty, because pounding the strike zone with good stuff, good things can happen. He didn't walk a hitter and didn't even fall behind many guys.

"That's vintage Boyd when he's right. He got swing-and-misses late in counts, used all of his pitches and gave us a chance to win. I mean, what more can you ask out of a guy?"

He deserved to win

Hinch is correct.

Boyd gave his team a chance to win, but when he needed offense, the Tigers fell short. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Willi Castro was thrown out at home plate on throws from Cave to cutoff man Andrelton Simmons to catcher Mitch Garver.

Castro was trying to score with no outs on Miguel Cabrera's double. Third base coach Chip Hale waved him around third base, but the Cave-Simmons-Garver sequence was perfect.

"We made them execute a play," Hinch said. "In a close game, it's always magnified, and it doesn't feel very good when you get the guy thrown out at home. ... Obviously, it's an aggressive play and there's no outs, I understand the magnitude of it. I think it was more about them executing and less about Willi or anything like that."

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Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) is tagged out at home by Minnesota Twins catcher Mitch Garver (8) during sixth inning action on Wednesday, April 7, 2021, at Comerica Park in Detroit.
Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) is tagged out at home by Minnesota Twins catcher Mitch Garver (8) during sixth inning action on Wednesday, April 7, 2021, at Comerica Park in Detroit.

Then, the Tigers were thrown out again at home — in the same inning. With one out and the bases loaded, Jonathan Schoop flied out to right field. Garlick came up throwing, as the 37-year-old Cabrera tagged third base and headed home. Hale gave him the green light.

Cabrera wasn't even close.

"He was trying to tag up and tie the game," Hinch said. "Miggy's going to read that depth. A lot can happen in that 180- to 200-foot throw. They executed. There's no blame to be had there. That's a play where they have to perfectly execute a long throw. ... Obviously, if they don't execute, we're talking about Miggy's aggressive base running.

"The result business, it's tough to make two outs at home there, but the Twins did a great job of executing on both."

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers SP Matthew Boyd continues strong start to 2021