DETROIT — Not every start is going to smell like roses, but in September each loss looms larger than life. Matt Boyd has been a steady arm for the Tigers for much of the year, but Tuesday night was not one of those nights and it was a loss he had to wear for a few innings.
Because of the impending start of Mike Pelfrey, the Tigers don’t have the luxury of taxing the bullpen right now. But even if Boyd had made it through at least the fifth or sixth, or recovered to allow no more than four runs, the offense still couldn’t get on the board in any meaningful way.
The same offense that has been limited to 17 runs over their last seven games. The week prior, they’d gone on a tear, obliterating opponents for 35 runs in the same time frame. The Tigers are no strangers to dry spells, but in the final month when Wild Card outlooks can change by the night, every mistake is magnified.
That’s not a good recipe for any team that’s about to welcome back a No. 5 starter (at best) from the disabled list, who may or may not be any good. Keeping Boyd in wasn’t ideal, and manager Brad Ausmus considered pulling him earlier, but at the same time he needed to eat as many innings as he could.
“We got a couple guys going the next couple days, including Pelfrey, who's going to be on a pitch count, and we're going to need guys in the bullpen,” Ausmus said. “I also didn't have (Shane) Greene and (Bruce) Rondon today, and I didn't want to use Greene. Rondon needed a day (to recover).”
Rondon has pitched for the last two straight days, and while he’s been significantly better on the mound of late, he hadn’t been in back-to-back games since Aug. 27-28. He’s yet to appear in relief for three consecutive outings this season and is riding a season-long nine-game scoreless streak. He’s been good, but he needed rest.
As for Greene, he’s been a mess of late, and not at all a prime candidate to appear in any game at this point — even a blowout game. So, with a slightly depreciated bullpen, that left Buck Farmer — normally a starter — to get the job done in the hopes of saving the ‘pen for later.
It paid off, though Ausmus did acknowledge that Farmer’s 4-1⁄3 innings of work leaves him as an unlikely candidate for use in the next few days. But then, that was the point. It was a sucky situation for Boyd, who hasn’t had a truly rough start since June 18. But this was the first time he’s encountered an off day in months, and that in itself has been a blessing.
Since returning to the rotation on June 9, Boyd has gone at least five innings on three runs or less in eight of his last 10 starts entering Tuesday night. He dropped his ERA from 6.44 to 3.89 in that time, and those two four-inning starts he gave up three runs (one earned) and two runs apiece. At some point, he was going to have a bad night.
“I was just out of sync,” Boyd said. “I wasn't right, physically. I wasn't clicking with my delivery and I was just falling apart there on the mound. Wasn't able to repeat, and you can't command when you do that. Just a recipe for disaster in that sense.”
Despite the rough night, Boyd and pitching coach Rich Dubee have already identified the mechanical adjustments needed — though Boyd wouldn’t go into detail as to what exactly those were. Health-wise, he’s fine, and experiencing no fatigue (regardless of the decreased velocity on Tuesday, which he didn’t even notice).
The bigger problem for the Tigers at this moment is the lack of offense. The pitching as been performing well enough, and the bullpen may have turned corner (with one or two exceptions, which are being avoided for now).
The Tigers have been a streaky offensive team this year, but if they’re going to stave off a Wild Card drop, they’ll need to wake back up. And soon.
“You're gonna have nights like this,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “Unfortunately it's toward the end of the season where we need some big wins. A team like the Twins, we're capable of putting up some good runs against guys like that, but it happens. So, now you turn the page and move on tomorrow.”