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Big leagues can wait as Boyd makes pitch for NCAA title

OSU's versatile lefty focuses on his game, not MLB offers


by: COURTESY OF OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY - Oregon State senior Matt Boyd, a former hockey player and first baseman-outfielder, has developed into a top starter. He does some things right-handed, but pitches left-handed.CORVALLIS — The next Sidney Crosby? Probably not.

So Matt Boyd set his sights on baseball and trying to become the next Joey Votto — or is it Clayton Kershaw?

Pardon the confusion, but Boyd — the No. 1 pitcher on Oregon State’s pitching staff — has made so many transitions in his young athletic career, it’s hard to keep track.

Hockey was right there alongside baseball for Boyd until his sophomore year at Eastside Catholic HIgh in Mercer Island, Wash., when he turned in his skates and devoted himself full-time to the diamond.

The 6-3, 215-pound senior left-hander had developed into a grinding forward as a member of the U.S. Developmental Program.

“I wasn’t the fleetest (skater), but I could find holes, dish the puck off and create some havoc in front of the net,” says Boyd, 22. “It’s a sport where you can take out your emotions on somebody. It’s a physical game with a fast pace — there’s no sport like it.

“But it came down to playing baseball and not having to leave home” over playing junior hockey.

Boyd arrived at Oregon State as a pitcher-first baseman who hit .464 and had an 0.84 ERA with 91 strikeouts in 58 innings as a prep senior. He was a two-way performer as a freshman at OSU, hitting .264 with three home runs in 29 games as a first baseman-outfielder while going 7-1 with a 1.90 ERA in 20 appearances.

The next two seasons, Boyd was no longer a position player, serving as one of OSU’s top setup men out of the bullpen.

“Matt was much better on the mound,” OSU coach Pat Casey says. “He had some power as a hitter, but he didn’t have the same potential to get to the next level as a hitter as much as a pitcher.

“He works so hard, I could see him being a successful hitter, too. The one thing about Matt — he doesn’t do anything halfway. But if I let him continue to do both, it would take away from what he should be accomplishing on the mound.”

After going 4-0 with three saves and a 3.41 ERA in 31 appearances last season, Boyd was a 13th-round pick by Cincinnati in the June draft. After discussing the situation with Casey and Matt’s father, Kurt, Matt turned down a six-figure signing bonus to return to Oregon State for his senior season. The Beavers’ back-to-back College World Series titles in 2006 and ‘07 provided much of the motivation to return.

“What it came down to was winning a national championship and getting a degree,” Boyd says. “Hopefully, I’ll still have the opportunity to play pro ball.

“Trying to win the College World Series is the reason I came to Oregon State over other schools. You see the trophies in the Omaha Room. ... I want to be one of those guys.

“I’m grateful for what the Reds offered, but when it came down to it, I wanted to win a national title with my guys here.”

One other bit of incentive: Casey offered an opportunity to fill a starting role. Boyd fit nicely into the rotation, especially with southpaw Jace Fry out at least until May because of Tommy John elbow surgery.

“It made it that much better,” Boyd says. “When Coach Casey said that I could impact the game in that framework, it was something I couldn’t pass up.”

Boyd has more than taken advantage of his opportunity, posting a 6-0 record with a 1.69 ERA. He is tied for the Pac-12 lead in victories and ranks among the league’s top 10 in ERA (seventh), opponents’ batting average (fourth, .187), innings pitched (second, 48.0) and strikeouts (third, 45).

“Statistically, he has been better than anybody so far,” Casey says. “When you talk about the elite starters in the conference, Matt Boyd is one of them.”

Part of that has been the addition of a fourth pitch, a slider, that began late last season. Pitching coach Nate Yeskie taught him the pitch to go with his fastball, curve and changeup, and Boyd spent last summer in the Cape Cod League honing it.

“It has become a real good pitch for Matt,” Yeskie says. “The purpose of it last year was that his arm was in a lower slot that was more conducive to repeating that pitch. He was trying to throw a curveball out of a low slot. At times it was OK, but the frequency of being able to command it the way he wanted to wasn’t what we were looking for. The slider played better out of that slot.

“It’s a pitch Matt has latched onto. He has gotten stronger and been able to maintain a higher slot, which has allowed him to throw his stuff downhill with more consistency. It has helped the change, it has helped the fastball, it has helped the curveball. The slider is something that he had a natural feel for all along, he just needed to get more repetitions with it.”

Kurt Boyd — who coaches in the summers and works with high school players — has been instrumental in his son’s development.

“Matt is a student of the game, and Kurt has influenced his thought process,” Yeskie says. “He has prepared Matt to be mentally tough over the years. He has been real good for him.”

Boyd’s best outing was a one-hitter in a 5-0 win over Arizona State March 22 in which he allowed the leadoff hitter a single, then stoned the Sun Devils the rest of the way, walking three while striking out 11.

“My dad asked, ‘Why’d you let that first guy get a hit?’ ” Boyd says, laughing. “I shouldn’t have let that happen.

“I felt like I got better as the game went on, and the guys played great defense behind me. When I walked guys, the defense came up big to help me out, and Jake (Rodriguez) called a good game. It couldn’t hardly have been better.”

Kurt Boyd is responsible for Boyd, who is ambidextrous, throwing the baseball left-handed.

“I throw a football right-handed,” he says. “I eat and write right-handed. I bat left-handed and play hockey left-handed. Dad made me throw the baseball left-handed when I was about 5.

“If I really wanted to work at it, I’d like to think I could pitch right-handed. But it’s worked out pretty well the way it is.”

Casey says Boyd has big-league potential.

“Absolutely, whether as a starter or setup guy,” the OSU skipper says. “He is going to continue to get strength and develop. Four-pitch guys are hard to find. He touched 94, 95 (mph) at the Cape last year. The velocity is in there. He’s a guy who can pitch in the major leagues.”

Boyd doesn’t want to get ahead of himself.

“I have an insane focus on the present,” he says. “I’m going to prepare myself only for the next day. I’m blessed to have this opportunity to wear the Orange and Black for another year. I’m trying to take it a pitch at a time.”

Boyd had another reason for returning to OSU. His sister, Jessica, will enroll as a freshman in the fall.

“She wants to be in sports broadcasting,” he says. “I’ll be able to be around next year, to work out and to keep an eye on her. She’s one of my best friends. I love her to death. It works out great.”

Last weekend’s series loss to San Diego does not dim Boyd’s hopes for a spot at Omaha in June.

“Every team has a little road bump through a long season,” he says. “We did not play the brand of baseball we can. You want to expect the best product on the field every game, but we’re human. We are a championship-caliber team, I guarantee you that.”

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