Reliable reliever Blaine Hardy relishes being on call
Detroit — All this talk about needing to define bullpen roles, Blaine Hardy doesn't get what the fuss is about.
"We are starting to get our roles a little bit defined," said Hardy, the left-hander who has been the Tigers' most reliable bullpen piece since early June. "But at the same time, I like being ready the whole game. I'm not a guy that wants to know his role from the start of the game."
Frankly, he doesn't know how closer Joakim Soria does it — basically sitting back and counting down the innings until the ninth.
"I kind of like the feeling, every time the phone rings, is it going to be me?" he said.
Like it or not, Hardy's role is being crystalized with every outing. He is the guy manager Brad Ausmus trusts to get a dangerous left-handed hitter out in a key moment late in the game.
"Yeah, I think he's better against left-handers because of his curveball," Ausmus said. "But because he was a starter for so long, he does have the ability to get right-handers out. He's trending towards (situational left-hander). I certainly try to use him in those situations when they avail themselves. But I don't think he has to be just a situational lefty."
Hardy is 3-1 with a 2.38 ERA and a 1.080 WHIP. If you want more advanced numbers, he has a 0.8 WAR, a 2.51 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and his Runs Above Replacement is 8.
He has given up a run and a hit with seven strikeouts in his last six outings, covering 5.2 innings. Going back to June 13, he has allowed just two runs in 17.1 innings.
"I just feel like I've settled in," he said. "I had a real rough start to the season, but from there things have progressed better. My curveball showed up and that helped a lot. It's just been consistency and also getting repetitions, getting in on a daily basis. That really helps."
His change-up is another pitch that has progressed. It has long been his weapon of choice against right-handed hitters. Recently — and much to the dismay of fellow lefty David Price — he's been dropping change-ups on left-handed hitters.
"I threw one to (Travis) Snider last night, exactly where I wanted it to be," Hardy said. "David approaches me every time I throw one to a lefty. He said, 'Second pitch to Snider; change-up?' I said, 'Yeah.'"
The common belief is that a change-up from a lefty to a lefty is a very hittable pitch because it typically drops low and inside — which is most left-handed hitters' hot zone.
Hardy doesn't buy it.
"It's one pitch that lefties don't see that often from a lefty," he said. "It's basically the one pitch that I have that comes back in on a left-hander. It's still a change-up, it still speeds up their bat and, at best, they turn and yank it into the dugout."
Ausmus continues to keep it bullpen-by-committee until the ninth inning, though Neftali Feliz is honing in on the eighth-inning role. Hardy is content to wait by the phone, which can result in some superb comedy.
"Every once in a while they will call with just a random question," he said. "They get everyone's heart going for nothing. Or, sometimes on the road, they misdial."
In some stadiums, like Minnesota, the dugout and bullpen phones have to be dialed, old-school style. And sometimes there is just one number that differentiates between the bullpen, where bullpen coach Mick Bellmeyer presides, and the clubhouse, where the Tigers video replay man, Matt Martin, sits.
"The number to call to check a replay is usually one digit before or after the bullpen," Hardy said. "So they dialed the wrong number and asked Mick, 'Was he safe or out?' And Mick said, 'Well, from here he looked safe.'"