'That's unacceptable:' Matthew Boyd is fixing what ailed him in 2020

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A lot went wrong for Matthew Boyd last season, a season in which he gave up the most runs in the majors.

The problems started in summer camp when he strained his left hamstring. They got worse when he pitched through it -- and couldn't pitch the same. And they crested, in a fittingly cruel kind of way, when he dealt with plantar fasciitis in his left foot over his final few starts.

Boyd never acknowledged these issues during the season, because issues tend to sound like excuses. Boyd hates excuses. But he admitted Monday as he reflected on a long summer that, "physically, (the injuries) affected me in terms of being able to repeat my delivery."

"There was no pain in what I was doing for the majority of the year, but then my mechanics moved and adapted to where I wasn’t able to do the same things on the mound that I was used to," Boyd said.

The result? An ERA of 6.71, a WHIP of 1.475 and a negative WAR as the ace of the Tigers' staff. The other result: growth. With so many things running through his head whenever he took the mound, particularly mechanical adjustments, Boyd lost some of his focus on the present. He said he learned some "strong lessons" in being glued to the moment, in putting every ounce of his energy into the batter in front of him.

"On the mental side, it’s understanding that it doesn’t really matter how I feel. It just matters that I need to go out there and attack," Boyd said. "I’m good enough to get the job done. Whether I’m hurt, whether you’re pitching off one arches, two arches, whatever, you gotta believe in your stuff.

"If you’re not 100 percent focused on the hitter and there is some percentage before you release the ball that’s focused on something else, there needs to be a regrouping and an understanding of why that hesitation is there, why you’re not fully invested, why you’re not fully on the hitter, why you’re not fully attacking."

Boyd said there were times last year where he fell victim to these mental lapses -- "and that's unacceptable."

"But I learned from it," he said. "You gotta give yourself grace and know that, OK, I got caught up in that. And I need to step back and say, 'I’m better than that. That’s not what I promised myself I’m going to do, and that’s not what I promised everyone else I’m going to do.'

"I can’t control the results, but I can promise that I’m going to be 100 percent attacking on the hitter. And there were times that I wasn’t doing that, whether I was focusing on my foot or on how I felt or that something wasn’t coming out the way I was used to."

Boyd's slider, his bread-and-butter pitch, was especially marred by his twisted mechanics. He said he "couldn't throw it with the same break" after he altered his delivery to compensate for his hamstring. Hitters had a slugging percentage of just .335 against his slider in 2019; that ballooned to .583 in 2020.

So one of his points of focus this offseason has been breaking the bad habits he formed last summer.

"It was coming out of my hand differently. When you do that for many months in a row, you start to develop habits. So it’s taking those habits with my delivery and the pitch and working on exactly how I want them to be, and then developing that new habit," he said. "That’s what we’ve been dialing away at."

Boyd's also been refining his fastball, which was tagged to an even worse degree last season than his slider, with some insight from new Tigers pitching coach Chris Fretter -- who, like Boyd, is at the forefront of pitching technology and analytics.

"There’s some little things that Chris brought to my attention, just on my spin axis and how I’ve fluctuated over the last few years," Boyd said. "Last year it fluctuated in a different way because of my lower half working differently with the plantar fasciitis and the hamstring. It caused my hand (placement) to be a little bit different. If I can be a little more behind it, which I was what I was working for, it will increase the vertical break, the way it enters the strike zone, the way it moves, essentially."

It's been an offseason of growth for Boyd, after a season that demanded it. Just as important, maybe even more, it's been an offseason of getting healthy. Boyd, who turns 30 in February, said he has fixed "what needed fixing" -- which was a lot.

"There needed to be work on my foot, on my lower half and my hamstring," he said. "I wanted to mess around with my slider, lock that in a little bit more. Continue to refine my fastball. That's been the focus, and been going full-tilt."

With a clean bill of health and what he believes is an improved arsenal, Boyd's eager for the 2021 season. The 2020 season was a frustrating one, at times a painful one, and ultimately a beneficial one. Next time he takes the mound, his mind -- and his body -- will be in a better place.

"It’s not ideal to go through it, but I know that God’s using it for his good and I’m learning from it and I’m going to continue to learn from it," he said. "I’m always a work in progress. I’m always going to be learning, and some strong lessons were learned last year in that."