CHICAGO -- The tweak that changed Matthew Boyd's pitching came about by accident. He was laboring through a five-inning, 104-pitch outing against the Mets early last August when his arm started dropping to a lower angle as he threw.
He was getting tired and falling out of his usual form, tossing 50 pitches over his final couple innings. But to pitching coach Rich Dubee, the lower arm angle was better for Boyd. He didn't get the results that day, yielding home runs to left-handed hitters Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson for three runs in five innings. But more importantly, Dubee noticed, Boyd's pitches had a different look.
"He came up to me right after the game and said, 'Hey, did you see where your arm was for this?'" Boyd said. "He goes, 'Did you see that curveball shape? You were commanding it better. You were dropping down on it.'"
Boyd didn't notice it. He was just tired. But when he threw his next side session in Seattle a couple days later, he lowered his arm slot on purpose, at Dubee's suggestion.
"He's like, 'Just mess around with it, just for a few pitches,'" Boyd recalled. "I threw 25 pitches and it was way better. I'm like, I can do this."
He was ready to show it off his next start. Instead, a 15-inning game in Seattle forced him into action. He pitched a hitless 14th inning with a walk and a strikeout, and his fastball jumped from just over 91 mph three days earlier to just under 94.
"I was hitting 95-96 and I'm commanding the ball again," Boyd remembers thinking. "This feels great. I'm throwing it where I want to and it's better and firmer, and they said it's more deceptive."
The changes Boyd made a difference down the stretch for him, posting five quality starts in eight outings from that point on -- he had only one in his first 10 starts -- as he helped the Tigers climb back into the playoff race. More importantly, the adjustments formed the foundation of the pitcher who will take the mound Thursday against the White Sox instead of his regularly scheduled Saturday start after Wednesday's game was postponed. Boyd not only won a rotation job in Spring Training, beating out veteran Anibal Sanchez, but put up some of the most impressive pitching of anybody in camp.
Boyd didn't give up a walk until his final outing, posting a 23-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He didn't give up a home run all camp, a seemingly trivial stat until you consider that three home runs in 17 innings last spring hurt his chances to break camp with the big club. His 1.29 ground-ball/fly-ball ratio nearly doubled his career regular-season rate.
The difference is subtle but noticeable on Statcast™. Compare his release point graphs from 2015 to '16, and even with a midseason adjustment, the latter has a lower floor. His swinging strikes increased after the change, peaking at 18 over seven innings of two-run ball against the White Sox last September.
"It just made everything a lot more repeatable," Boyd said. "I dropped my arm slot 5-6 inches or so, and it allowed me to stay in my delivery better, allowed me to repeat my delivery, and then gave my pitches a lot more consistent shape. Everything just worked better from down there."
One scout who followed the Tigers all spring called Boyd a potential second or third starter. Another thought he has the chance for a breakout season, maybe better than fellow young lefty starter Daniel Norris. For someone who was a lesser-known prospect from Toronto in the David Price trade two years ago, it's a major uptick.
On Thursday, weather permitting, he'll take that work to the mound in a game that counts.
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.