Hardy, 'unsung heroes' help snap slide against Indians

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Detroit Tigers' JaCoby Jones, right, celebrates his two-run home run against the Cleveland Indians with Jose Iglesias during the third inning on Saturday.

Detroit — Useful.

What else is there to say about left-hander Blaine Hardy? Whatever role he’s been asked to perform this season, he’s done it admirably and without complaint.

"He's got that 'whatever' attitude, that 'whatever you need me to do I'll do' attitude and that plays along with what we've asked him to do here," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He can go in a lot of different ways and not a lot of pitchers can do that. They're more routine-oriented.

"Blaine can do just about anything you need him to do. If we asked him to close he could probably do that tomorrow. You have to have pitchers with that mindset and he has it."

Closing tomorrow might be beyond his scope, but Hardy gave the Tigers a strong, five-inning spot start Saturday and helped them on their way to a 2-1 win over the Central Division-leading Indians. It snaps a five-game losing streak against Cleveland.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 2, Indians 1

Tigers relievers Drew VerHagen (two scoreless innings), Joe Jimenez (scoreless eighth inning) and closer Shane Greene (clean ninth) finished it off. 

"That they were able to go four innings without a run, they are the unsung heroes of the game," Hardy said. "They did a great job keeping the game where it was."

But what Hardy's been able to do this season, especially for a veteran who was designated for assignment in the spring and was passed over by 29 teams, has been remarkable.

He was thrust into the rotation earlier in the season as a fill-in for Jordan Zimmermann and made eight mostly effective starts. He quietly went back to the bullpen, until Michael Fulmer went down with an oblique injury.

More: Tigers' Fulmer encouraged, says he'll 'be back sooner than expected'

He thought he was going to hold Fulmer's place in the rotation for a few weeks, but he was told earlier in the week he was going back to the bullpen — they would go with four starters for a while because of a light schedule.

No worries, he said.

Then, getting ready to do his early work on Friday, he was told that he would be starting against the Indians in place of Francisco Liriano (allergies) on Saturday.

Cool, no problem, he said.

"That's the attitude I have to have," said Hardy, who has held opponents to two runs or less in seven of his 10 starts. "You just come in every day and be ready to go. It comes down to not being in the routine of, 'I'm pitching five days from now.'

"You just come in every day and if they tell you the schedule has changed, perfect. I'll acclimate to it and be ready."  

Despite not throwing more than 55 pitches since June 26, Hardy threw 74 over his five innings and allowed a run on four singles.

"Blaine did what Blaine's done every time he gets a chance to start," said catcher John Hicks. "He kept guys off-balance and he threw strikes. That's what it's all about."

The only spot of bother for Hardy came in the second inning. A broken-bat dunker by Yonder Alonso started it. He went to third on a bullet single to left-center by Rajai Davis, and scored on an 0-2 flair into shallow right field by Jason Kipnis.

Hardy immediately extracted himself from the inning, getting a 6-4-3 double-play from Roberto Perez.

He retired 10 of the next 11 hitters after that.

"My curveball was actually working, for the first time in like two years," Hardy said, in his typical self-deprecating fashion. "Being able to throw that to get ahead in the count is what got me through tonight."

The Tigers' offense was provided by one swing of the bat by JaCoby Jones in the third inning. With Jose Iglesias on second after he doubled, Jones drove a first-pitch fastball from Indians starter Mike Clevinger into the seats in left field — his eighth home run of the season.

"Clevinger throws strikes," Jones said. "Sometimes his fastball is straight. He was trying to come inside and make me rollover. I just saw a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it."

Jones left the game after the fifth inning with lower back tightness. He expects to be available to play Sunday. 

The Tigers missed a glorious chance to pad their lead in the bottom of the seventh. They loaded the bases with no outs — a single by Jim Adduci, Iglesias was safe on an error and Victor Reyes, who replaced Jones, walked. But they came up empty.

Leonys Martin popped out to first base against left-hander Oliver Perez. Against right-hander Neil Ramirez, Jeimer Candelario flew out to short right and Nick Castellanos struck out on three pitches.

"We misfired and in a game like this, we need to take care of those things," Gardenhire said. "We were lucky to get away with it."

Lucky, too, that Jimenez was able to put his rough outing on Friday behind him. He took the loss, giving up three runs, but even though his command was off, he put up a zero on Saturday.

"We got him back out there; we thought it was the right thing to do," Gardenhire said. "We talked about it. If we run Willie (Alex Wilson) out there, then Joe would definitely be thinking about it. I don't want him to think about it. He's too good.

"I asked Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson) and he said, 'Put Joe back out there. He's our guy.'" 

He fell behind Michael Brantley, but got him to fly out on a 3-0 pitch. He walked Jose Ramirez with two outs and fell behind Edwin Encarnacion, 3-1. Encarnacion whacked a fastball 385 feet to the track in deep right-center field that was tracked and caught by Martin.