Steady, consistent Hardy cements spot in Tigers bullpen

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Tampa, Fla. — Nothing changes with Blaine Hardy. Even when things around him change quite a bit.

In his two seasons with the Tigers, the left-handed reliever has been a model of consistency — 7-4, 2.87 ERA, 1.365 WHIP, allowing just three home runs in 100-1/3 innings. Consistent, too, in that he wore down at the end of both seasons — when he pitched 39 innings at the end of 2014 and 61-1/3 last season.

“My arm did get a little tired toward the end, but truthfully, I was in love with how much I was pitching,” he said this spring. “But there was a stint where I threw in eight of 10 games. I could tell my arm was tired.”

So could the hitters. On Aug. 15, he was 4-2 with 10 holds and a 2.49 ERA. In 17 outings after, he gave up seven runs in 10 innings (5.91 ERA) with opponents hitting him at a .388 clip (1.026 OPS).

“It’s one of those things, you see where your tipping point is,” he said. “The year before they took it easy on me. I think I pitched back-to-back-to-back one time. Last year, they wanted to see if I could go and I appreciated them doing it. Now I know.”

He comes to camp this year virtually guaranteed a roster spot, though it is still uncertain what his role will be. The Tigers traded for left-handed setup man Justin Wilson in the offseason, which would seem to preclude Hardy from a late-innings role.

“They say I am the No. 2 lefty,” he said with a shrug. “Truthfully, the only thing I care about is that we have a bullpen that’s sturdy. It’s nice to have a good foundation. If that means they needed to bring a lefty (Wilson) in to fill a gap, I am OK with that.

“The way I’ve always looked at it, you have to pitch to earn your role. I’m going to do exactly the same thing I’ve done the last two years.”

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Hardy pitched a clean 1-2-3 fifth inning in the Tigers’ 9-2 win over the Marlins Sunday, after giving up two runs and two hits to the Yankees in Tampa earlier in the week. His breaking ball and change-up were much sharper, as was the command of his fastball.

Manager Brad Ausmus has intimated that Hardy could wind up being a long-innings guy out of the ’pen.

“He was a starter before he came here,” Ausmus said. “He’s a guy who can get righties and lefties out and we can stretch out for multiple innings.”

Hardy has an elite pitch, his curveball, which also makes him an effective option as a situational left-hander. Lefties hit .129 off his curve last season and .229 overall. He has no beef with the label.

“There are guys who’ve been in the league 10 to 15 years as a situational lefty,” he said. “I couldn’t care less what my role is. I just want the team to do well and hope by the end of the year to be in the World Series and bring home a nice little ring.”

Make no mistake, for guys like Hardy, Alex Wilson and Drew VerHagen, holdovers from last season, there are scars. All three had solid seasons, but will forever be associated with the worst bullpen (statistically) in the league for 2015.

“It’s never fun to have your name associated with something like that,” he said. “I thought, for who we had up here, we did a good job. But that’s not what the fans and media look at. Usually it’s just, ‘Well, you lost.’ But most of those guys (who pitched out of the ’pen last year) didn’t even have two years in yet.

“Last season was rough. This season is going to be different. If one guy has a bad year, we have other guys who can pick him up. Last year, we couldn’t do that.”