Sometimes, the difference between victory and defeat in a baseball game can be razor thin. Take Matthew Boyd’s last start, for instance. The Tigers lost by a 9-5 score in a game that wasn’t even that close, but the outcome could have been much different had Nicholas Castellanos been able to hold onto Joey Votto’s eventual grand slam at the wall. Castellanos got his glove on the ball in a leaping attempt to rob Votto at the wall, but the baseball gods said no, and the ball bounced over the fence to give Cincinnati a 4-0 lead.
Sure, runs might have scored after that. The Reds would have gotten at least one run on that play alone, and might have added to that tally later in the inning — there were no outs at the time. But a play like that can also change a pitcher’s mindset, and Boyd might have wiggled out of trouble with just a 1-0 deficit.
“What if” games aside, Boyd does need to be better in this next start. He walked three batters and hit one more in the start, and lasted just four innings after he struggled time and again to get through Cincinnati’s potent lineup. He was much better in his lone outing against the Indians earlier this year, holding them to just one run — a solo homer, more on those later — in seven innings.
Can he do it again on Sunday, and help prevent a Tribe sweep?
Detroit Tigers (36-41) at Cleveland Indians (42-33)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation site: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matthew Boyd (4-5, 3.63 ERA) vs. RHP Adam Plutko (3-1, 5.04 ERA)
Game 78 Pitching Matchup
Here’s what depth in your farm system can do for you. The Indians needed to replace righthander Josh Tomlin, who was struggling to the tune of an 8.10 ERA as a starter this season. They were just 1-5 in games starter by Tomlin — the lone win came against these Tigers, naturally — and struggling to pull away from the rest of the division.
Enter Adam Plutko. The 26-year-old righthander made a couple of relief appearances in 2016, but was called in as a spot starter in May. He put together a solid start against the Blue Jays in early May, then blanked the Chicago Cubs for six innings later in the month. He didn’t do quite as well against the White Sox five days later, but still picked up the win, his third in a row. He didn’t make his next start until June 12, when he put up another stinker against the White Sox.
While Plutko’s numbers haven’t been great, his mere presence has been helpful for the Tribe. They are 3-1 in games he has started this year, with two of them coming as a direct result of Plutko’s strong performance. This is already more than Tomlin had given them, all from a pitcher that probably won’t rise much higher than his current swingman role in the future.
Plutko’s arsenal suggests the same. He has averaged 92.3 miles per hour with a four-seam fastball he throws just over 60 percent of the time, and mixes in a slider, curveball, and changeup. Like Tomlin, Plutko likes to elevate his fastball, which generates a high fly ball percentage. He has only thrown 25 major league innings this year, but has an incredible 59 percent fly ball rate so far. Lefties have hit him much better than righties so far, in part thanks to his middling secondaries.
Key matchup: Both starters vs. multi-run dingers
Both Boyd and Plutko sport very high fly ball rates. While these high rates lend themselves to lots of easy outs and a low batting average on balls in play (BABIP), they can also result in a lot of home runs in the wrong situation. Boyd figured this out the hard way in Cincinnati’s tiny ballpark earlier this week. Plutko, meanwhile, has had trouble keeping the ball in the park at home; he has already allowed six home runs in just three appearances at home, including one relief outing. He has had trouble keeping the ball in the park in the minors too, and will probably give up a homer or two today. He and Boyd need to keep other traffic off the bases so those dingers are solo homers, not three-run shots or wall-scraping grand slams (yup, still bitter about that one).
Boyd bounces back and the Tigers avoid the sweep.