Boyd exorcises demons with gem in Texas

Boyd exorcises demons with gem in Texas

ARLINGTON -- The last time Matt Boyd pitched at Globe Life Park, the Rangers roughed him up for six runs and three homers over 2 2/3 innings in his final start of the 2015 season. Afterward, he stood at his locker, answered questions and made a prediction.

"I'm only a fraction of the pitcher that I'm going to be next year," the Tigers' left-hander said.

As he stood in front of his locker at the same park on Saturday night, having shut down the Rangers on two hits over seven innings in a 2-0 victory, he had every reason to feel some satisfaction.

"You think of that feeling, and it burns inside your gut," Boyd said of the previous meeting, "giving up a bunch of runs and not going deep in the game. That outing last year was bad. That was the last one of the season, so it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. But you have to learn from it and grow and move forward, and that's been a big emphasis this year."

But, he added after a pause, "It's still a long way to go."

What Boyd has done since rejoining the Tigers rotation last month has been quiet dominance. It's mid-August, with more than six turns left before the season ends. But the way Boyd has pitched in this stretch makes the case that he deserves to see this through.

"That's as good as I think we've seen Matt Boyd," manager Brad Ausmus marveled.

Saturday's outing improved Boyd to 4-0 with a 2.16 ERA in six starts and a relief appearance since the beginning of July. He has allowed 10 runs (eight earned) on 24 hits over 33 1/3 innings in that span, walking eight and striking out 29. He has allowed five home runs in that stretch, but by limiting the baserunners in front of them, the homers accounted for just six runs.

None of those homers came from the Rangers, who hit four off Anibal Sanchez on Friday night. The hits off Boyd on Saturday were an Adrian Beltre ground ball through the left side in the first inning, and Mitch Moreland's double into the right-field corner in the second. The latter accounted for Texas' lone runner in scoring position.

Thus, on a night when the Tigers managed just two runs despite 14 hits off Cole Hamels, they still outproduced the Rangers.

"Cole Hamels really did a nice job of keeping us from scoring a bunch of runs, and keeping his team in the ballgame," Ausmus said. "But to be truthful, I thought Matt Boyd was a little sharper tonight. He was a little better."

Hamels might not disagree.

"I liked how quick he was," Hamels said of Boyd. "He really came after you with his pitch and kept firing away. It was more like a Cliff Lee approach. If he's able to keep doing that, he's going to have a pretty good career. Especially with that lineup protecting him, he's going to get a lot of wins."

Far from nibbling against Rangers hitters, Boyd pounded the strike zone, reaching just one three-ball count aside from the two walks. He threw 68 strikes out of 99 pitches, and drew six swings and misses off a sharp slider.

Boyd credited the slider with a lowering of his arm slot, an adjustment he made with pitching coach Rich Dubee's input earlier this week. His inning of relief in Tuesday's 15-inning loss in Seattle gave him some game work with it. Saturday was a grand unveiling.

"It's all of a few inches' difference, but it makes all the world, freeing my body up and allowing myself to repeat all four pitches," Boyd said.

Throw all four pitches, keep hitters from focusing on one. Change eye level, change speeds, keep hitters from solid contact. Avenge a team that hit you last year.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.