Lakeland, Fla. — Blaine Hardy’s heart and brain are fighting a tug-of-war.
His heart is telling him to get out there and pitch, shoulder impingement be damned. There is a roster spot to be won. His brain is telling him to chill out. It’s a six-month season. Take a month, get fully healthy and then go have a strong five months.
The head will win this battle.
“I respect the plan,” said Hardy, who had a cortisone shot in the shoulder last week. “The key is to be healthy. I don’t want to have a relapse and then all of a sudden I’m two weeks behind, then I’m a month behind and then I’m two months behind. I am not saying that 100 percent I won’t be ready (for the start of the season). Who knows, I may feel great tomorrow and they will allow me to throw a bullpen.
“But as of right now, it doesn’t look promising.”
Tigers pitching coach Chris Bosio confirmed Hardy’s prognosis.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said when asked if Hardy had time to be physically ready to start the season. “He’s champing at the bit, I know that. I talked to him yesterday and he’s doing well and feeling better.
“He still does have time. He was in a pretty good spot at the beginning of camp and he’s lost some time. Things have to fall pretty clean for that to happen.”
Bosio said Hardy, who came in as the club’s second left-hander out of the bullpen, is three game appearances and three bullpens behind.
As of Wednesday, there was no timetable for when he’d throw his next bullpen.
“Somehow we’d have to make up for at least three bullpens and a simulated game for him before he sees any action,” Bosio said.
Hardy’s shoulder injury has opened the door slightly for Chad Bell or possibly minor-league camper James Russell to win a spot on the roster, if the club keeps a second lefty reliever.
The No. 1 lefty
There is currently no debate as to who the No. 1 lefty reliever is: Daniel Stumpf.
“Big stuff, great stuff,” Bosio said when asked about Stumpf. “This guy knows what he’s doing. We are trying some things with him and he’s got the aptitude to do it, as well. We’ve got a special left-handed reliever right there in Daniel.
“With the velocity, the tenacity and the guile he has when he’s out there, we’ve got a special left-handed pitcher.”
Asked what specifically he was working on with Stumpf, Bosio grinned and said, “a multitude of things.”
Bosio on Wednesday also explained the decision to move Buck Farmer to the bullpen. That move was made last week.
“Players will tell us what role they are going to be in based on their performance,” he said. “Buck is his own worst enemy. His stuff is lights-out. There are innings where he carves through them, as you’ve seen. And there are other innings where he is guilty of trying too hard.
“When he’s right, he can be a starter. He’s got good enough stuff. But with the number of guys we have, Gardy (manager Ron Gardenhire), Al (Avila, general manager) and I feel he is probably best suited for the ’pen.”
Bosio did leave open the possibility of Farmer getting stretched back out to start if he was sent back to Triple-A Toledo, or if there were injury issues to the current pitchers vying for rotation spots.
As he gradually builds up his arm strength, Tigers’ right-hander Joe Jimenez has seen some positive early returns on his refashioned slider.
“I feel more confident with both my slider and change-up this year,” said Jimenez, who is in the mix to be a late-inning set-up man. “Bosio taught me to throw my slider like he wanted me to throw it and it feels good.”
Bosio didn’t change the arm action but he did adjust Jimenez’s grip. His slider acted more like a cutter last year, with a shorter east-west break. With the new grip, he’s been able to get more depth on the pitch.
“It’s doing a lot to set up hitters,” he said. “Before it was more like a three to nine (hands on a clock) movement. Now it’s more one to seven.”
Jimenez has worked three scoreless innings this spring, allowing two hits and three walks with three strikeouts. Opponents are batting .200 off him. His fastball velocity, even though he’s not at full arm strength yet, has been 94-95 mph.