Detroit — Within the next couple of weeks, the Tigers' starting rotation could be whole again for the first time since early May.
Jordan Zimmermann, out with a shoulder impingement, made his last rehab start Monday and could be activated Saturday in Chicago.
Francisco Liriano, out with a hamstring strain, threw 60 pitches over three innings in a simulated game Tuesday. He will make a rehab start at Toledo on Sunday and will look to extend his pitch count to 80. If all goes well, he could be back in the rotation five days after that.
So that begs the question, what happens to Blaine Hardy, who has been rock-solid in his five starts before Tuesday’s outing against the Twins?
“Well, you are talking about putting him in the bullpen, which will make our bullpen better,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “If you lose him from the starting rotation, that’s only going to help our situation in the bullpen.”
The Tigers presently do not have a left-handed reliever in the bullpen as Daniel Stumpf works his way back from ulnar nerve irritation. Gardenhire said he could envision Hardy serving as both a long man and a situational lefty.
“He has length and he can come in and get lefties out,” Gardenhire said. “We could put him in for stretches and let him go two or three innings to get us to the setup man and closer. We can put him in early to stop something if we get behind three or four runs early.
“Or, we could use him to get one hitter out. And then, if something happens to another starter, we’ve got a guy who can go right back in there.”
Hardy, who battled through a shoulder injury in spring training, was designated for assignment in March 26. He cleared waivers and was re-signed to a minor-league contract and sent to Toledo. He was the International League Pitcher of the Month in April and was back on the 40-man roster and in Detroit by May 5.
It doesn’t appear he’s leaving any time soon.
“We may be losing him from our starting rotation but we are gaining something in another part of our ball club,” Gardenhire said. “Because he’s definitely earned the right to be here.”
Rookie Artie Lewicki, who has made two spot starts, will likely return to Toledo when Zimmermann returns this weekend and remain in the Mud Hens starting rotation. He pitched well in a long-relief role with the Tigers.
Liriano, who has been on the disabled list since May 27, was impressive in his simulated game Tuesday.
“Wow,” Gardenhire said. “The ball was really coming out of his hand, diving and darting.”
Liriano pitched to Niko Goodrum, Dixon Machado and Victor Reyes and didn’t give up much hard contact.
“It feels good,” Liriano said. “It was mostly just to test my leg, just so mentally it feels strong and everything is normal. Nothing hurt, so it was a great day for me.”
Barring any setbacks, and if the Tigers keep the rotation intact, Hardy would make one more start on Sunday in Chicago. With an off-day on Monday, Gardenhire and pitching coach Chris Bosio could shuffle the rotation to work Liriano back in.