There was redemption and some evolution for beleaguered Tigers lefty Matt Boyd in this one. Unfortunately the offense, defense, and bullpen weren’t able to follow through as the Indians pulled away to start a new winning streak by a score of 6-1.
Despite the loss, it was important to see Boyd get back on track, particularly after being ambushed in the first inning with regularity this year. Francisco Lindor turned on an inside fastball off the plate and doubled in the first inning, but Boyd otherwise racked up three quick outs to avoid his recent first inning curse.
He built from there, racking up four punchouts in the second and third innings, showcasing much stronger doses of his changeup and freezing the dangerous Jose Ramirez with a swooping curveball to end the third.
Lindor led off the fourth with a single, and with one out, Franmil Reyes dumped a blooper into center field that initially froze JaCoby Jones to put two on with one out. Boyd dug in during a tough at-bat against Jordan Luplow before drawing a big whiff on a 3-2 changeup. Domingo Santana grounded out on an 0-1 pitch as Boyd escaped the jam.
The big lefty was nicely settled in, spotting his fastball better and using the curve to steal a first pitch strike here or there. He got the fifth inning started well with another swinging strike on the changeup to put away catcher Roberto Perez before quickly getting Delino DeShields and Cesar Hernandez on weak contact.
On the other side, things weren’t going nearly so well as the Tigers lineup struggled mightily with the electric stuff and command of yet another young Cleveland starter, Triston McKenzie. The reedy young right-hander made his major league debut showcasing a heck of a riding fastball in the mid-90’s with a nasty hook and changeup combo and great command of all three. Feel like Jack Nicholson’s Joker wondering where Cleveland keeps building these fantastic young pitchers.
The Tigers were no-hit into the fourth when Willi Castro, getting a look at shortstop in place of Niko Goodrum, turned and crushed a first pitch changeup into the right field seats to take a 1-0 lead. The offense wouldn’t do much more than that, with Miguel Cabrera in particular looking completely overmatched against the rookie, while Christin Stewart remains completely lost against just about everyone.
There’s no denying that Boyd looked revitalized in this one. But he still fell prey to the cardinal sin of the leadoff walk in the sixth. With Jose Ramirez on, Lindor squeezed a single to right field to put two on with no outs. Boyd got Carlos Santana on a sinking line drive to right field, and the Tigers turned to John Schreiber with a scary right-hander, Franmil Reyes, stepping to the dish.
Schreiber did a really nice job with Reyes, fishing the bottom of the zone with his frisbee breaking ball and fastball, but was fought into a 3-2 count. The young sidewinder didn’t give in, spinning a tight slider down and away as Reyes swung over the top for the second out of the inning. However he then walked Luplow, and things fell apart.
A solid ground ball off the bat of Domingo Santana rolled right between second base and Willi Castro, dying in deep left-center, and the Indians raced around the base paths to plate three runs. Another seeing eye single between Paredes and Castro added another run before Bryan Garcia took over to get the final out of the inning.
Not going to pin this on the defense, but the reaction times of Castro and Stewart both on these two plays are headache inducing. Little things still matter despite far bigger problems. The margin was tighter than the score appears in this game. Two pitches Schreiber would like back, and a bit tighter defense, and this game might look rather different.
However, with the bats still scuffling, that was really all she wrote. Garcia and Funkhouser weren’t hit hard, but each allowed a run in the seventh and eighth respectively. Victor Reyes doubled in the ninth, but Cabrera beat another ball on the ground to third base for the final out of the game.
Tarik Skubal will make his second major league start on Sunday at 1:10 p.m. against Carlos Carrasco.
The real takeaway here, is that Boyd really found something in this start. His changeup was the biggest part of his initial run of major league success way back in 2016. He leaned into it tonight, treating it as the real weapon it is, with Austin Romine doing a nice job of calling for it in tough counts again and again. Mixing in some curveballs to steal strikes took advantage of hitters sitting on the high fourseamer, and those two developments eased enough pressure off his fastball-slider combo to make everything work much more effectively. Let’s hope he can keep it going.
As for the offense? Yeah they struck out 13 times and drew one walk. McKenzie was good, but just about everyone is able to throttle this lineup like it’s nothing most nights.
Finally, Willi Castro mashed this home run, and we’re intrigued by his potential with the bat to some degree, but defensively he’s got a lot to prove at shortstop. His footwork and agility have left something to be desired in the minor leagues, and he still seems overmatched there as numerous balls that should’ve been in range have gotten by him in only a couple of games played. Something to watch for as his bat is going to earn some looks going forward. If he hits, they’ll figure it out.