Lakeland, Fla. — When you think of Driveline Baseball, the data-based training facility near Seattle, you think of power pitchers. Guys like Trevor Bauer have helped make the methods of founder Kyle Boddy famous in the baseball community.
Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd is a disciple of the program, and in three years has raised his average fastball velocity from 89 to 92 mph. Building velocity is what the program is mostly known for.
You wouldn’t necessarily, then, associate a crafty, curveball-spinning lefty like Blaine Hardy with Boddy’s methods. Had you been standing by his locker Wednesday, those suspicions would have been confirmed.
“By now everybody should know I don’t care about velocity,” he said. “Well, let me rephrase that. Every pitcher cares about velocity. You want to throw as hard as you can. But more important, you want control.
“In my mind, what’s the difference between 88 and 92 mph?”
To which Michael Fulmer, sitting in the next stall, deadpanned: “Four miles per hour.”
Nevertheless, Hardy, who is from Seattle, has become a Driveline disciple — well, in a manner of speaking.
“I wanted to focus on making sure my shoulder was stronger this year because that’s where the problem area was last year,” Hardy said. “When I visited my mom in Seattle, I visited the Driveline facility. Boddy showed me around.
“I kind of took their program and picked out the pieces that I liked.”
Boyd, Bauer and Tigers left-handed prospect Chad Bell would be considered heavy lifters in the Driveline program. They all have programs specifically tailored to their own bodies and styles of pitching, but they are full programs.
Hardy is just now dipping his toe in the water.
“They’ve done nothing but proven that their program works,” he said. “It’s just the longevity of it is a question in my mind, for my arm. I don’t know if my arm would be able to take that (full) program from the get-go.
“Maybe next year, now that I am doing it, I can build up to what they’re doing. We will see what happens.”
A big part of the program is remapping throwing mechanics to facilitate maximum efficiency and reduce stress on the arm and shoulder. Hardy is all in on this. He is doing drills with weighted balls and with the lighter balls.
“It puts a lot of stress on your arm, but it’s good stress and it builds strength,” he said. “All of a sudden, your arm may be able to get where you want it. The exercises I took were just to make sure my shoulder was in good shape.”
Hardy began last season on the disabled list with a sore shoulder and was sent down to Triple A Toledo again in May. After pitching in 70 games in 2015, he made just 21 appearances last year.
Sights and sounds on a very windy day at Tigers spring training. Robin Buckson / The Detroit News
He has a fierce roster battle on his hands this spring, too. There are five left-handers competing for what may be two or three bullpen spots — Justin Wilson is a veritable lock for one spot. Kyle Ryan, Hardy, Rule 5 draftee Daniel Stumpf and Bell are the others in the mix.
Hardy has been down this road too many times to be overly stressed by it.
“You want to make the club out of spring, but you don’t want to push yourself to a point where you are trying to impress too many people and you end up hurting yourself,” he said.
“I am in a little different position. The first year I got to the big leagues was the one year I really pushed myself as hard as I could (in spring), and down the stretch I got tired.
“I know what I need to do to be ready for the season, and being healthy is No. 1.”
Right-hander Jeff Ferrell has simplified his goals dramatically this spring. Missing almost a full year with a persistent and at times baffling shoulder impingement will do that do a player.
“I just want to be healthy all year,” he said. “I don’t care where I start, I just want to pitch healthy.”
Ferrell rocketed through the Tigers’ system and made his big-league debut at the end of 2015. He pitched five scoreless innings in the Arizona Fall League that same year and was expected to compete for a bullpen role last spring.
That’s when nerves in his right shoulder began to flare, shooting pain through the right side of his body.
“Horrible timing,” he said. “The worst.”
Hard-throwing Tigers prospect Joe Jimenez turns it loose during spring training in Lakeland, Florida. Chris McCosky, The Detroit News
Months of physical therapy and mechanical adjustments failed. Finally, he took a platelet-rich plasma injection and sat out for eight months.
He wound up throwing just nine games in high A Lakeland and Toledo last year.
“It was roller coaster, for sure,” he said. “I went from having the best year of my life to the worst year of my life.”
The Tigers designated him for assignment and removed him from the 40-man roster, then signed him back on a minor league contract this offseason with an invitation to big-league camp. He’s back to a regular throwing program, though there is a year’s worth of rust to kick off.
“I can do everything,” he said. “But I haven’t thrown in so long, it feels a little weird.”
Tigers pitchers Joe Jimenez and Daniel Norris throw bullpen sessions at spring training in Lakeland, Florida. Chris McCosky, The Detroit News
Around the horn
There’s a long way to go before Ausmus has to set his 25-man roster, but he laid down some parameters Wednesday — four reserve position players and seven relievers.
“It’s possible (to carry an extra reliever) but it’s unlikely,” he said. “You hamstring yourself with three guys on the bench. We don’t do a lot of pinch-hitting, but we do some pinch-running and defensive replacements. You don’t want to hamstring yourself in that regard.”