Tigers' Hardy, McCann lose cat-and-mouse battle
Detroit – You will see the highlight. You will see Jose Abreu smacking a 2-2 change-up off Tigers reliever Blaine Hardy and sending it over the left-field fence in the eighth inning.
The score will show the White Sox up 4-2 at that point – a key run considering the Tigers scored twice in the ninth before losing in 10 innings, 6-4, on Saturday.
But the drama and the intrigue of that at-bat didn’t make the highlight clip. This is why baseball is such a great game – regardless of how long it takes.
Hardy had retired five straight hitters. His off-speed mix was the perfect antidote to a hot-hitting White Sox lineup that hunts fastballs as well as any team in baseball right now. Still, Hardy is left-handed and Abreu, who homered earlier in the game, is a powerful right-handed hitter.
On paper, it’s not a favorable matchup for the Tigers.
Manager Brad Ausmus spent a few anguished moments in the dugout pondering a pitching change. He had right-hander Shane Greene ready. But Greene hasn’t exactly dominated Abreu in his career (4-for-11, triple, home run, five RBIs).
“Greene has struggled against Abreu, but if there had been traffic on the bases, I would’ve went to Greene,” Ausmus said. “But there was nobody on, Hardy had gotten five straight outs, his splits (percentages against) are pretty close – righties and lefties. If someone had been on, I go to Greene. But the way Hardy was pitching, five straight outs, I stuck with him.”
Hardy fell behind 2-0 and then got two ugly swings at change-ups to even the count.
“The change-up was working, as it usually is,” Hardy said. “I stuck to it.”
On the 2-2 pitch, catcher James McCann flashed a series of signs called auto-shakes. He wanted Hardy to shake him off to confuse Abreu. The intent all along was to go back to the change-up.
But, just before Hardy accepted the final sign, Abreu stepped out and called time.
“He called time and I don't know for sure if he happened to peek when Mac put the sign down,” Hardy said. “I think he may have. Mac thought he saw (the sign), too.”
At that point, McCann wanted Hardy to switch to the fastball and throw it inside to back Abreu off the plate. Hardy wasn’t feeling that, and shook back to the change-up.
“With how sporadic my fastball was, I was like, 'You know what, with you putting down one (for fastball) and me shaking again, maybe it'll get him off the change-up,’” Hardy said. “But, you saw the swing. He knew it was coming. It was a good pitch. It was outer half and down.
“That was one of the best swings I've seen against my change-up in a while.”
The cat-and-mouse game went to Abreu on this day.
“The change-up was working, so I just figured I could keep it on the outer half of the plate,” Hardy said. “That plan failed.”