Detroit — Can we just take a quick moment to acknowledge the accomplishments of Blaine Hardy this season.
Designated for assignment out of spring training, unwanted by 29 other teams, Hardy not only worked his way back to the Tigers, he’s put himself in a position to be a full-time member of the starting rotation next season.
“I don’t want to say I was on my last legs,” Hardy said earlier this year. “But I wasn’t sure how much longer I was going to be able to do this. So, I just told myself, if this is it, then I’m going to go out and enjoy it. I am going to have fun playing this game.”
Hardy’s first step back came when he was put into the starting rotation at Toledo. There he developed and polished a cutter-slider hybrid that has revitalized his career. He was virtually unhittable to Triple-A hitters, and in 13 starts with the Tigers, he went 4-4 with a 4.26 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP.
He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in Oakland on Aug. 3. He threw a three-hitter over seven innings against the White Sox in one of his first starts of the season. He’s also gone back to the bullpen and excelled (two runs in 12.2 innings with 14 strikeouts).
Under team control through 2022, he has transformed himself into a versatile and valuable asset for the Tigers. The only concern now is his left elbow, which, because of inflammation, put him on the disabled list on Aug. 14 and limited him to one appearance since.
“It flared back up on me,” he said before the game Wednesday. “I think they want me to take it easy.”
Hardy threw a bullpen Wednesday and said the elbow felt fine. In fact, he said he expects to be available for use this weekend in Cleveland.
“I want to show that I am healthy,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. Not only that, I really want to pitch. If it was still nagging me, then I would probably wait. But, it feels good and there are five series left. This is the perfect time.”
Hardy said he did not throw any cutters in his bullpen session. For good reason. That pitch, which changed his fortunes, ended up being a double-edged sword.
“We’ve come to the conclusion that my heavy use of the cutter caused the problem,” he said. “It was like, I found this cutter and it was getting people out, so let’s throw it every pitch. And then, ‘Oh, now I know why my arm feels like this.’”
Hardy threw the cutter-slider 35 percent of the time this season and opponents hit just .234 against it. He threw his four-seam fastball 32 percent of the time and his change-up 23 percent of the time. The change-up limited hitters to a .224 average.
The curveball used to be his signature pitch, but he’s only used it nine percent of the time (.182 average).
The reason the cutter has put stress on the elbow is the supination required to throw it properly. Hardy said a change in his off-season regime will help alleviate the problem.
“I will get it stronger for next year, and preparing to be a starter should help strengthen it,” he said. “On top of that, I will probably get myself in better shape, as well.”
Hardy and his wife Nicky, who is expecting their first child, bought a house outside of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. He already has contacted a college baseball coach in the area and secured the use of his facilities. He’s also going to build a net in his garage to throw into.
“As long as the heater is working, I will be fine,” he said. “I’ve adjusted my routine every single off-season. That didn’t work, this worked — do more of this and do less of that. Now I know I have to be ready to pitch multiple innings, so I know I have to build up my arm strength.”
Hardy doesn’t have anything to prove to the Tigers the rest of this month. But he does have something to prove to himself.
“For me, it’s just having that peace of mind to know the arm is still working,” he said. “The bullpen today was a good first step toward getting that peace of mind.”