It is often said that you learn more about a baseball player when he faces adversity than when everything is clicking for him. Teams don't necessarily try to put their young players into tough situations in the minor leagues, but often times watching how a prospect works his way through a tough stretch can be an indicator of how he will respond to similar situations at the major league level.
Tigers lefthander Matt Boyd made his Detroit debut on Aug. 5, throwing seven strong innings in a win over the Kansas City Royals. Boyd was rarely in trouble the entire night, allowing just one hit on an RBI triple from Kendrys Morales. He scattered seven hits overall, and tallied a whopping 15 fly ball outs, most on weak contact from an aggressive Royals lineup that could not adjust to Boyd's fastball-heavy approach.
Five days later, Boyd was tasked with slowing down the Royals yet again. This time, Kansas City jumped all over him, scoring three runs in just five at-bats. Alcides Escobar and Ben Zobrist both reached base on first-pitch fastballs, and Lorenzo Cain's two-run double also came on a 94 mile-per-hour heater. Two batters later, Kendrys Morales singled, giving the Royals a 3-0 lead with one out.
We have seen other Tigers pitchers become unglued in situations like these this season, allowing the inning to snowball and the game to get out of hand. Instead, Boyd and catcher Alex Avila made a key adjustment, and the 24-year-old was able to retire 15 of the next 19 batters he faced before departing in the sixth inning.
In fact, Boyd and Avila made the adjustment after the first two pitches of the game. With both Escobar and Zobrist on base, Boyd started Cain off with a changeup in the strike zone that the All-Star aggressively swung through.
In the next at-bat, Boyd only threw two fastballs in six pitches to Eric Hosmer, who flailed at a 82 mile-per-hour slider in a 3-2 count for strike three.
After Morales singled, Boyd started off Mike Moustakas with four consecutive sliders before finally breaking out the fastball in a 2-2 count. Moustakas fouled off a 3-2 slider before grounding out on a fastball up in the strike zone.
In all, Boyd threw 12 first-pitch fastballs to the 24 batters he faced, and four of those came in the first inning. Ten of the final 18 batters he faced saw an offspeed pitch to open their at-bat. This is a stark contrast from Boyd's first outing, when he threw 15 first-pitch fastballs to 27 hitters. Boyd also threw 30 sliders on Monday, nearly triple his count from five days ago.
Avila gets credit for recognizing the situation at hand and guiding his young starter through the game, but Boyd's ability to locate his offspeed pitches for strikes is what separates him from some of the other Tigers starters we have seen in 2015. Of the 62 offspeed pitches Boyd threw on Monday, 39 were for strikes, an impressive rate of 63 percent. Because he effectively "worked backwards," Boyd kept the damage to a minimum and gave his offense a chance to get back into the game.
Unfortunately for Boyd and the Tigers, Johnny Cueto was pitching for the Royals, and Boyd was saddled with his first loss in a Detroit uniform. The end result may not have been what Boyd wanted, but his outing was an encouraging sign for a Tigers club already looking to its future.