Chicago — Ron Gardenhire was asked last week if he might consider using a six-man rotation once lefty Francisco Liriano returned off the disabled list.
His response was a flat, "No." He didn’t think that was the direction they’d go.
But upon further review, spurred by some data-based persuasion from pitching coach Chris Bosio and the impressive body of work compiled by lefty Blaine Hardy, Gardenhire is rethinking it.
Hardy gave up a solo home run to Matt Davidson and not much else in 5.1 innings on a sweltering Sunday afternoon, helping the Tigers sweep the White Sox, 3-1. It was the club's fifth straight win.
Detroit has also won six straight at Guaranteed Rate Field, the longest winning streak in Chicago since 1979 and 1980.
"It's always good to win a series, but when you sweep, it's a bigger push," Hardy said. "Especially since we're close in the standings now (2.5 games behind the Indians). We're trying to scrap for every game and we're doing a really good job of it."
As for staying in the rotation, well, consider Hardy was unceremoniously designated for assignment and passed up by all 29 teams in March. He's not taking anything for granted.
"I've been going start to start from the get-go," Hardy said. "Even if they tell me I'm in the rotation for the rest of the year, I will probably do the same. Just go start to start. You never know what might happen.
"I'll be ready whenever they tell me to pitch...I'm having a blast being a starter and if they end up putting me out in the bullpen, I'll be just as happy."
Liriano, who was scheduled to make a rehab start for Toledo Sunday night, is expected to rejoin the rotation this week. Hardy, in turn, was set to return to the bullpen. But Gardenhire pumped the breaks on that before the game.
“He may not necessarily be going to the bullpen,” Gardenhire said. “We are working on a lot of things. You’ve got to remember the time of year it is, it’s the middle part of the season. We could go to a six-man rotation and give guys extra days here. Me and Boz have been working on all kinds of stuff.”
Gardenhire said nothing is set in stone, and if they did go to a six-man rotation, it would likely be for a few weeks, up until the All-Star break. But why the change of heart?
“I started thinking about it,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve got (Jordan) Zimmermann back now and we’re going to get Liriano back. And we’ve got some guys that might need extra days, that could use extra days. Take some innings off their workload and make them fresh a little bit.
“We started thinking we could probably do that with some of these guys.”
Zimmermann and Mike Fiers have both benefited from extra days between starts over their careers. Zimmermann is 16-10 with a 3.78 ERA and 1.16 WHIP when he gets six days or more rest between starts; Fiers is 9-5 with a 3.47 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP.
But this is also about keeping Hardy in the rotation. He allowed two runs or less on Sunday for the sixth time in seven starts.
“Yeah, he’s thrown it really, really well,” Gardenhire said. “Why take a guy out when he’s throwing it really, really well when you don’t have to? The problem is, we don’t have a lefty in the bullpen. He could be very valuable there.
“That’s what we’re kind of weighing right now.”
The only run Hardy gave up Sunday was an anomaly — Davidson hit his solo home off Hardy’s curveball. How rare is that? It’s just the second homer he’s allowed off his curveball in his big-league career. He’d thrown 575 of them to that point, 171 were put in play (Statcast).
Only two left the ballpark; the other was in 2016.
"He hit a change-up off me for a home run last year and the curveball today, since it was the first one I threw all day, I didn't think anything of it until I saw his swing," Hardy said. "I was really hoping the wind would blow a little harder from left.
"It was 0-1 and I was trying to get to 0-2. Didn't get there."
After an eight-pitch fourth inning and dispatching eight straight hitters, Hardy allowed an infield single to Kevan Smith with one out in the sixth. He was at 77 pitches, but it was an extremely hot day and Davidson was due up.
"That was one of the hottest games I played in," Hardy said. "I was just trying to go as long as I could. I got myself in a bind in the sixth having to face Davidson, since he's hitting like .500 against me. It made sense to go to the bullpen."
Gardenhire went to Louis Coleman, who got the last two outs of the sixth and the first two in the seventh.
The Tigers were without closer Shane Greene, who was unavailable after saving the four previous games.
So Alex Wilson was bumped up to the setup role and he handled it without drama. He got the final out of the seventh and pitched a scoreless eighth.
Wilson has now worked 11 straight scoreless innings spanning 10 outings.
Joe Jimenez, who hadn’t allowed an earned run in 17 of his last 18 outings, struck out the side in the ninth.
Nick Castellanos got the Tigers off and running with a two-run home run off White Sox starter James Shields in the first inning. It was Castellanos’ ninth homer of the season and his third in two days.
The Tigers added a third run in the fourth, a double by Niko Goodrum and a two-out, RBI single by Jose Iglesias.
So, a six-man rotation? Really?
“I am not saying we’re going to do it,” Gardenhire said. “Just maybe for a little while to give them a breather going into the All-Star break. We’ve been thinking about it. We’ve written some things out.
“Now you guys just have to wait and see what we do.”