On Sunday, the Blue Jays promoted Matt Boyd to Buffalo after he spent two months dominating the AA Eastern League. And unlike when he was promoted mid-season last year, he kept rolling, turning in seven excellent innings despite taking the loss in a 2-1 defeat against former Jays' prospect Kyle Drabek.
Boyd faced 27 batters, striking out eight while walking none and yielding just six hits (a home run being the only extra base hit). He threw 68 of his 98 pitches for strikes, but most impressively generated 19 swings-and-misses on 54 swings, for a sublime 65% contact rate. He showed a good four pitch mix, and he was able to touch 93-94 on the Buffalo stadium gun, though I only heard a couple of readings from the broadcast so I don't know if he was hitting that consistently.
Of his seven innings, there were basically only two in which Boyd ran into serious trouble. Leading off the game, Micah Johnson lined Boyd's second pitch into right for a hard single. Boyd threw wildly to first on a pickoff, allowing Johnson to advance to second. Johnson, a lefty, was the only batter to have Boyd's number on the day, going 3/3 and accounting for half of Charlotte's six hits. A routine grounder to short was thrown away putting runners on the corners, and another to 2B scored Johnson.
Boyd then bore down and struck out Matt Davidson, blowing two fastballs by him. He struck out Trayce Thompson the same way, sandwiched between between hitting former Bison Matt Tuiasosopo with a fastball that ran way in on him. So it was an up-and-down first inning in AAA for Boyd, compounded by a defensive miscue behind him.
The other trouble inning was the fourth. It started well enough, as Davidson swung through a change-up and fastball before softly lining out to SS. But he fell behind Tuiasosopo 3-0, running the count full before a fastball caught enough of the plate to be driven deep to left, caught against the fence as the park just barely held the fly ball. Boyd would not be so lucky to the next hitter Thompson, who drove a 2-2 pitch about 20 feet further to the same spot for a solo home run. He got out of the inning with more pretty hard contact, a line out to short.
In between, he was dominant. He needed just 13 pitches for the 2nd inning, allowing a soft line drive single with two outs that was erased on a caught stealing. Likewise, he only needed 11 pitches for the 3rd inning. Johnson slapped a grounder into left field, but was picked off one pitch later. Boyd ended the inning with a strikeout, as Jason Coats swung through three straight pitches, a change-up and two fastballs.
Boyd bounced back in the 5th with a 12 pitch inning, the only hit being a slow roller to 3B slightly bobbled by Matt Hague. It could have been an error, but probably would have been beaten out anyway. The 6th was even easier, 10 pitches to get a roller to SS, popout to first, and strikeout of Tuiasosopo on a pretty fading change-up.
His final inning, the 7th, may have been his most dominant. He blew a fastball by Thompson to strike him out, touching 93 MPH on his 86th pitch of the game. He got ahead on the next batter 1-2, but didn't get a chase fastball high enough and it was lined back up the middle. Boyd came back to strikeout Tyler Colvin on four pitches, swinging through three sliders. Luery Garcia chased a slider and swung through another nice change-up, but Boyd's couldn't strikeout the side, settling for a soft humpback liner to 2B.
Overall Boyd commanded his fastball well, particularly to the arm side (inside corner to lefties/outside to righties), though the home run came on one that leaked out over the heart of the plate. But generally he painted the corners and missed in good locations, locating high fastballs well for swings-and-misses. He had more trouble throwing to the glove side, with the ball (coming through the strike zone) staying over the plate and in the swing paths of the hitters.
But I was most impressed by his change-up, as he threw at least a half dozen that showed really good fade and generated whiffs or weak fouls from batters way out in front of the pitch, particularly to righties. At the very least, it flashed as a secondary weapon. Boyd also mixed in his two distinct breaking balls, a slower curveball and a slurvy offering with more horizontal run than downward movement. The curve wasn't a swing-and-miss pitch today, but he got a few batters to swing over it and hit weak choppers. It wasn't the best I've seen his breaking stuff, but he threw four really nice, more distinct sliders to the last two batters of the outing.
The way Boyd pitched on Sunday, he could definitely have handled a major league lineup, and many of the hitters he faced have significant MLB experience. It wasn't flawless, and he made some mistakes that were hit hard if not always totally punished, but he navigated through the lineup three times mostly keeping them off the board. It would not be surprising at all to be see Boyd up later this year, or possibly even sooner if the need arose.