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Lakeland, Fla. – Blaine Hardy has, at last, entered the fray.

The left-hander who has pitched in 164 games for the Detroit Tigers over the last four seasons, may have worked himself back to health just in the nick of time.

“I feel really good,” said Hardy, whose pitching program was halted in the first week of camp by a shoulder impingement. “I will take two days off and pitch in a game (Monday). I am ready.”

Hardy, who turned 31 on Wednesday, threw to hitters on the back fields – live batting practice – for the first time this spring on Friday and looked strong, albeit rusty.

“The change-up is right where I need it to be,” he said. “I was a little amped up, though. I need to get the ball down a little better. But there were no restrictions (in the shoulder). Everything felt fine.”

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He threw 25 pitches, five each to five batters, and not a single ball was put in play. Several were fouled off and five were swung at and missed.

It is unclear whether there is enough time for Hardy to win a roster spot. Pitching coach Chris Bosio said last week he would need to get at least three game appearances in before the end of camp.

Barring a setback, he is on track to get at least that many.

“We are getting closer,” manager Ron Gardenhire said when asked about the bullpen picture. “We see the pieces starting to fall together.”

The decision on which relievers will head north likely will be a collaborative effort between Gardenhire, Bosio, general manager Al Avila and his staff. Based on early projections and spring performance, it seems a safe bet that there are six spots relatively secured:

Closer Shane Greene, Alex Wilson, Daniel Stumpf, Drew VerHagen, Joe Jimenez and Warwick Saupold. Stumpf is the only left-hander in the mix.

VerHagen is the only player in that group without a minor-league option remaining.

In the hunt for the seventh spot are lefties Hardy and Chad Bell, and right-handers Buck Farmer and Johnny Barbato. Here’s a breakdown of the four combatants.

Hardy: When healthy, he has an elite curve ball / change-up combination. His slider, with the help of some adjustments encouraged by Bosio, has been a lot sharper in his recent bullpen sessions. This coaching staff loves hard throwers, and Hardy’s fastball will top out at 90-91. He can pitch multiple roles, from long relief to situational lefty.

Bell: His fastball will hit 94 and his secondary pitches, slider and curve ball, have been sharp in his four outings thus far. Fastball command is key for him. In 6.2 innings this spring, he has allowed five hits and a run. He’s fanned six and walked three. Bell would be considered a long reliever, and likely will be stretched out to start if he starts the season at Toledo.

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Farmer: He’s been lights-out since being moved back into the bullpen. His fastball, both the four-seam and two-seam, have been in the mid-90s with heavy sink on the two-seamer. In six innings, he’s allowed just one hit with four walks and six strikeouts. He’s been used in one-inning stints this spring.

Barbato: A non-roster invitee, his fastball is back up to 95-96 mph, but command is still an issue. He’s walked four in 7.2 innings, allowing seven hits and two earned runs. He has struck out five. He could be used in either long or short relief.

Cool Papa Bell

Bell threw his first bullpen of the week on Friday, but he had a good excuse. His wife Ashley, at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, gave birth to their second child – a daughter who they named Avery.

“The original plan was to induce labor on March 24 or 25 at home,” said Bell, who keeps his home base in Knoxville, Tenn. “Everything would be decided here (in terms of his roster spot) and I would know where I was going. If I was with the Tigers, I could go home three days early and go straight up to Detroit.

“Or if I was going to Toledo, I’d get a couple extra days at home and then head up there.”

Avery had a different plan. Ashley went to her weekly doctor’s appointment and was told she was already dilated to four centimeters.

“She came home and said, ‘I don’t think we’re going anywhere,” Bell said. “We might be having the baby here.”

The Bells’ first child was born in Tennessee and this one was born in Florida. To which Bell quipped, “Forty-eight to go.”

Briefly

The Tigers Friday reassigned catcher Brayan Pena to minor-league camp.

… Former Tigers bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer visited the clubhouse Friday. This is his time in 34 years he’s without a job in professional baseball.

Twitter @cmccosky

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