Boston — It’s enough to make a lesser competitor call in sick, or switch positions.
Say you are Tigers lefty Blaine Hardy and you are preparing to face the Boston Red Sox, which he will do Wednesday night. Sooner or later you are going to come across these facts:
■ The Red Sox entered the series with the Tigers with six players posting an OPS over .850, that’s the most in the major leagues. They have three players with an OPS over 1.0 (Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Mitch Moreland).
■ They have three of the top five slugging percentages in baseball. They have six players with at least eight home runs. Their 88 home runs are tied for second in baseball and are the second most through 60 games in the franchise’s storied history.
■ They lead the big leagues in runs (320), batting average (.266) and extra-base hits (235). They are second in doubles (136), slugging percentage (.467) and OPS (.796).
At Fenway Park, where the Red Sox are 20-8, they were averaging 6.21 runs, hitting .289, slugging .512, all top home marks in the major leagues.
Meh, said Hardy.
“I feel like part of my success has come from not giving the hitters too much credit,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, their lineup here is very strong. But as soon as you have those negative thoughts in the back of your head, that can affect how you pitch guys.”
Hardy has made one appearance at Fenway — a relief appearance back in 2015, and it did not go well. He faced three batters, gave up a hit, a walk and a run and took the loss. But he’s a different pitcher now. He’s made a successful-so-far transition to the rotation, adding a cutter-slider hybrid that he didn’t have before.
He’s allowed two runs or less in his four previous starts this season, though he’s not been unblemished. He’s had lots of traffic on the bases and opponents have a hard-hit rate of 35 percent against him.
What he’s been, though, is unflappable in tight spots. Hitters are 3-for-24 against him with runners in scoring position.
He doesn’t have a mid-90s fastball or a power slider, but he doesn’t pitch scared.
“I’d rather put my strength up against their strength,” Hardy said. “Let’s be honest, the best hitters in baseball fail seven out of 10 times. That’s what it comes down to. The easiest way to put it is, watch their top two hitters in batting practice — they still hit balls and get themselves out and they know the ball is coming at a certain speed right down the middle.
“Hitting is not easy.”
He takes the same unaffected approach to pitching at hitter-friendly Fenway, too.
“That’s one thing I’ve done in the past that I try not to do now,” he said about trying to pitch to the dimensions of the ballpark. “When I would pitch at old Yankee Stadium, I was conscious of how quickly a ball can get out of there. That’s about the worst thing you can do.
“You can’t try to do something different from what your strengths are. You try to have the same attack plan. Just do what I do best, that’s kind of the easiest way to go about it.”
Here are some other more encouraging facts about the Red Sox offense that Hardy will also come across: Against left-handed pitching, they rank 10th in the American League (.239) and last in slugging (.375) and OPS (.675).
Tigers quality control coach Joe Vavra was all smiles Tuesday. His son, Terrin Vavra, was drafted in the third round, 96th overall, by the Colorado Rockies.
“Pretty special,” Vavra said. “Going that high, that’s a legitimate pick. So that gives him a pretty good shot at developing and becoming a pretty good player. I’m happy for him.”
Terrin, a shortstop, has led the University of Minnesota team into the Super Regionals against Oregon State (Matthew Boyd’s old team). He’s hitting .393 with 10 home runs and 59 RBIs in 56 games.
“We put him on the speaker phone in here (manager’s office at Fenway),” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He was pretty pumped up. He had a lot of phone calls. Teams were calling him at the end after he was picked by Colorado. There were a few teams picking right after that wanted him, too.”
Terrin, obviously, with his father coaching the Twins, grew up at Target Field. Joe said he was getting phone calls from several current and former Twins players.
“I told them, Terrin spent all that time in the cage, he was watching and learning from you guys,” Joe Vavra said. “I told them thanks for being mentors.”
Gardenhire used to pitch batting practice and hit fungos to Terrin at Target Field.
“He’s gone through a lot as a kid and he’s a heck of a baseball player,” Gardenhire said. “I watched him grow up. It’s a good feeling to see him get drafted in the third round. That’s pretty cool. He took as many ground balls as anybody did at Target Field, I guarantee you that.”
Gardy's draft story
Gardenhire’s son Toby was drafted, too, back in 2005.
“He went in the 93rd round,” Gardenhire joked. “There were only 50 rounds. He had my swing.”
Toby Gardenhire was drafted in the 41st round by the Twins and played for seven years, getting as far as Triple-A. He is now managing Class-A Cedar Rapids.
“He was a futility player, just like his father,” Gardenhire said. “The coaches all loved him because he could catch and play everywhere. He just didn’t have the swing, but he could play.”
Around the horn
Alex Wilson (plantar fasciitis) made his first rehab start at Toledo Tuesday. Wilson threw 26 pitches, 19 strikes, in 1⅓ innings in his outing against Buffalo. He struck out two and walked one without allowing a hit. He did not have to field a bunt or cover first. Jordan Zimmermann (shoulder impingement) will make his second rehab start at Toledo on Wednesday.
… Gardenhire said he would wait to see how Zimmermann’s outing goes before setting the rotation for the Indians series this weekend.
… The Tigers sent right-handed pitcher Sandy Baez back to Double-A Erie after the game Sunday. He pitched 4⅓ innings of hitless and scoreless relief in his major-league debut.
TIGERS AT RED SOX
First pitch: 7:10 p.m., Wednesday
TV/radio: FSD, 97.1
LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (6-1, 3.88), Red Sox: The Tigers have been killing left-handed pitching (.280 average, .341 on-base, both lead the American League, .453 slugging is second). But the Red Sox are 4-1 in Rodriguez’s last five starts, and he’s allowed 7 runs in 28 innings, with opponents hitting .231.
LHP Blaine Hardy (2-0, 2.77), 3.00), Tigers: He has allowed just seven runs in 22.1 innings in his four starts, with 16 strikeouts. But, he has dealt with traffic on the bases, 21 hits, six walks and a 1.20 WHIP. Opponents are hitting .250 off him in his starts, with a hard-hit rate of 35.5 percent. So, he’s been tough with runners in scoring position (hitters are 3 for 24 against him).