Detroit — Arms management. It’s an often underappreciated but vitally important part of a baseball manager’s responsibilities — particularly when it comes to nurturing and developing young arms.
Brad Ausmus has walked the line between using and overusing rookie left-handed starters Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd. Norris, coming off the disabled list, has been on a pitch count — first 45 to 50, then 60 to 65; his next start will be 75 to 80 and his last start 95 to 100.
With Boyd, Ausmus has spaced out his starts, which will allow him to finish the season in the rotation without going too far beyond the prescribed innings limit.
Ausmus is doing the same with his two top bullpen arms, as well. Alex Wilson, in his third major league season, and Blaine Hardy, in his second, easily have exceeded their previous season-high in innings pitched.
And Ausmus, for the past month, has rationed their workload. Wilson, for example, was unavailable Tuesday night. He and Neftali Feliz will be sharing the closer role for the rest of the season.
“A lot will depend on how they are feeling,” Ausmus said. “Wilson, with his innings, is probably a little more tired.”
Wilson doesn’t expect to pitch on back-to-back days the rest of the season.
“It’s just about rest; it’s nothing major,” Wilson said. “You will see me pitching (Wednesday) if the situation comes up. If it’s my day, it’s my day.
“But I am not dealing with anything like I was before (shoulder fatigue). It’s just 10 games left and we’re out of it. We want to win, but we’re not going to push it.”
Wilson, though, does not want to shut it down. The closer job in Detroit is wide open, especially after Bruce Rondon was sent home Tuesday. Wilson has made no secret of his ambitions.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to make a good name for myself,” he said. “We’ll see where the pieces land next year.”
As for Hardy, his baptism under fire came last season. At the end of August last year, his ERA was 1.91. His ERA in the final month of the season — 5.40.
“Last year at this point, I hit a wall,” Hardy said. “And actually, I hit that same wall this year, but I was able to climb over it about a week ago. Brad has done a good job of trying to limit the amount of throwing Willie and I are doing this last month.”
Hardy pitched a snappy 1-2-3 10th inning Tuesday to earn the victory.
“That was the best my curveball looked in two or three weeks,” he said. “I’d been throwing some spinners, not horrible curves, but not my curve.”
“It’s arm speed, but at the same time, it’s making sure I get to the right arm slot to throw it,” Hardy said. “Because of how long the season is, you get to the point where, ‘Ah, just stay down here (lower arm slot) and fling it.’”
Hardy has learned how to taper his workload between outings. He’s learned to just have a light catch once in a while instead of throwing long-toss.
“I’m not trying to build strength at this point, I am just trying to last,” he said. “I’m trying to make it to the end of the season.”
He’ll get there. So will Wilson. Ausmus and pitching coach Jeff Jones will see to that.