An adjustment with his mechanics changed Blaine Boyer’s season. A trip to Haiti changed his life.
Boyer first traveled to the impoverished Caribbean nation this past January, the same month he signed with the Minnesota Twins as a free-agent reliever. His week-long trip to Haiti was with an organization called Help One Now, something a friend of Boyer’s introduced him to.
The concept of Help One Now, as Boyer describes it, is about empowering communities in the rural nation. Sure, part of what the organization does is help build churches and develop water sources, but it’s more than that, Boyer says. By empowering the locals and creating jobs, the organization aims to keep families together. And at a place called Ferrier Village, orphaned children who have been trafficked can take refuge.
Everything Boyer saw during his time there was life-changing — so much so that he already has plans to return to Haiti after the baseball season is over.
"I’ve worked with ministries and organizations and non-profits before, but they’re so cutting edge in what they do and how they do things," Boyer said of Help One Now. "It’s just way different than going in and dropping money and watching. It’s way, way different. It’s way more complex. . . .
"Our family, we’re on board. We’re going to be with them for the rest of our lives, even beyond baseball."
One of the ways Boyer impacted the community in Haiti was by providing microloans to local farmers. It starts with a loan of $1,000 to help a hog farmer, for example, get his farm established. The loan is interest free and the process is eventually paid forward throughout the community.
"Once he pays it back and he gets things going, then he suggests the next person in the community that he would like to see get another loan, and then he holds them accountable," Boyer said. "So you kind of create this market. And that’s just a small aspect of what they’re doing. It’s amazing."
Boyer’s trip to Haiti with Help One Now — which also does work in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Peru, Ethiopia and South Africa — came several months before he first took the mound as a Twins reliever. Just a few years earlier, he had walked away from the game for more than a year before returning to the majors in 2014 with the San Diego Padres.
At 33 years old and with 265 games of big-league experience under his belt, Boyer signed a one-year deal with Minnesota to battle for a job in the bullpen in spring training. After winning that job, things didn’t initially go as smoothly as Boyer or the Twins had envisioned. He allowed runs in each of his first four outings, capped by a three-run fiasco in which he didn’t record an out in Minnesota’s 6-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
Since that point, Boyer has been one of the steadiest arms in the Twins’ bullpen. After throwing two shutout innings Tuesday in Detroit, Boyer has now pitched 13 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings. His ERA has dropped from 15.00 to 2.76 following Tuesday’s effort.
When asked what changed for him, Boyer attempts to downplay it by saying it was a slight mechanical adjustment he and bullpen coach Eddie Guardado made to his delivery. When prompted for further explanation, Boyer divulges the secret.
"My hands are a little higher. When I go through my windup, my hands don’t come here around my waist," Boyer said. "They stay high. It allows me to stay behind the ball and it gets my timing back on."
Over the course of his current scoreless innings streak, Boyer has picked up six strikeouts, walked just three batters and scattered eight hits. As a result of his recent success, Boyer has pitched in more high-leverage situations — including the eighth inning — with setup man Casey Fien currently on the disabled list.
Twins manager Paul Molitor has no hesitation using Boyer in the setup role, something he’s now done in each of Boyer’s last four outings.
"He got off to a little bit of a rough start, like we all did," Molitor said. "He’s just found a little bit of a groove. With Casey being out, he’s being called upon to get some pretty big outs for us."
Boyer earned six big outs Tuesday in Minnesota’s 2-1 extra-innings loss. After relieving starter Kyle Gibson to start the eighth inning, Boyer got Detroit’s Victor Martinez to ground out with a runner on second to end the inning. In the ninth, Boyer worked around a one-out double by Yoenis Cespedes and ended yet another scoreless inning when James McCann’s liner to right field was caught by Torii Hunter to send the game to the 10th.
Pitching with a one-run lead or a tie game in the eighth inning might not have seemed like a sure thing for Boyer early in the year. Now, though, he has all the confidence in the world to take the mound in those situations.
"Heck yeah. I want in there, man. I want in there. But you know what? Everybody in this bullpen wants in there. That’s what’s awesome," Boyer said. "I’ve been on teams before where everybody was kind of hesitating as to who was going to step up. This is not that team. I’d take us against anybody."