Cleveland — As the Tigers sent lefty Ryan Carpenter and his 8.36 ERA out for a ninth “spot” start Tuesday, it illuminated a much lesser discussed loss sustained by the pitching staff this year.
It’s not just starters like Michael Fulmer, Matt Moore and Tyson Ross the Tigers have been without. Blaine Hardy, who helped stabilize a battered rotation last year making 13 starts, may have done the same this year.
Except his aching left elbow wouldn’t allow it.
“He’s not even an option,” manager Ron Gardenhire said before the game Tuesday. “The hardest thing for him to do is the up-and-downs, pitching then sitting. Multiple innings is almost impossible. If it was like last year, he’d have been in the rotation, because he was pretty good.
“But that went out with his health.”
The elbow inflammation has limited Hardy's use in the bullpen this season to just 36.2 innings.
“We’ve been very careful with him,” Gardenhire said. “You have to be. Back-to-back days, multiple innings — it’s tough for him. You just have to be careful with him.”
The elbow pain has cost Hardy more than a spot in the rotation and a bigger role out of the bullpen. It’s cost him the use of one of his best pitches — the cutter.
“Going to my other pitches, I’ve always been able to do that,” Hardy said. “But losing a pitch that you really relied on, it makes you realize, ‘Oh shoot, I’d usually go cutter here, guess I will have to throw the change-up again.’”
The way he pronates his wrist to deliver the cutter puts strain on the elbow and has caused inflammation. He threw the cutter 462 times last season, or 33.8 percent of the time. This year, he’s thrown 76 of them, and without the same bite.
Hardy has had to throw more curveballs and especially more change-ups (330 of them so far, 24 percent) in place of the cutter.
“It’s not that I’ve necessarily abandoned it,” he said. “But I think hitters realize how often I am going to the change-up. I’ve seen hitters sitting on it more often.”
Case in point, the go-ahead home run he gave up to Martin Maldonado in Kansas City last Friday.
“Even though it was up, it’s still a change-up and you usually get a hitter out front,” Hardy said. “It was a 2-1 count and he was probably thinking, ‘Most guys would throw a fastball here, but this guy is going with a change-up.’”
Hardy remains one of the most reliable pitchers for Gardenhire, despite some uncharacteristic numbers. Opponents are hitting just .200 against him and his WHIP is under 1.0 (0.95). But, his fielding independent pitching is a career-high 5.75 and he’s given up eight home runs.
“I trust him,” Gardenhire said. “He knows how to pitch. He knows how to get guys out. But he’s got to be a one-inning-at-time guy. It’d be nice to be able to use him for multiple innings. But we just can’t do it.”
Hardy continues to work on the cutter in his bullpen sessions. He wants to reincorporate it at some point and he’s still holding out hope that the elbow will calm down and he can start pitching multiple innings — if not start.
“I understand they’ve got a lot of young guys in here who are trying to get their feet wet and they want to see what they got,” Hardy said. “But at this point, I am hoping my arm can bounce back soon to where I can start building it up and at least get a month of starts in before the end of the year.”
Mercer playing through
A double and two home runs in Monday's 8-6 loss certainly helped put a smile back on shortstop Jordy Mercer’s face. Though, it didn’t necessarily put a bounce back in his step.
He is still being extremely cautious with the right quad, which sidelined him for two months.
“It’s all about the process,” he said. “Trying to get it out of mind, that’s the biggest thing. Anyone who’s been through an injury like this before, it’s hard to let it go. It’s hard to trust it because you don’t want it to go back to where it was.”
Mercer said he’s no longer feeling any pain or discomfort in the leg. Still, he pulled up and jogged slowly into second base on ball he hit to wall in left-center Monday.
“It’s just getting back to trusting it,” he said. “Just having that belief that it’s going to be there and it’s staying stable and strong. Anytime I get around that bag, it’s the first thing on my mind. I need to get it out of my mind.”
Around the horn
Second baseman Josh Harrison (hamstring) had a minor setback in his recovery.
“He felt some tightness in his hammy, so we backed him off for a few days,” Gardenhire said. “With surgery, we knew there would be these types of things, breaking up scar tissue and things like that.”
The Tigers were hoping Harrison could start a rehab assignment soon.
...Niko Goodrum was the Tigers winner of the annual Heart and Hustle Award. The award, sponsored by the players’ association, is the only award voted on by former players. It recognizes players who demonstrate a passion for the game and display the value, spirit and traditions of the game.
…Gardenhire said center fielder JaCoby Jones (back) is on track to rejoin the Tigers on Friday.
Tigers at Indians
First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Wednesday, Progressive Field, Cleveland
►RHP Spencer Turnbull (3-8, 3.59), Tigers: It’s been a rough three weeks. He threw 100 pitches in five innings on June 22. Since then, he’s made two starts — with a stint on the injured list (shoulder fatigue) between — and threw 101 combined pitches in five innings. His sinker and slider, which had been primary weapons, have become unreliable.
►RHP Mike Clevinger (2-2, 3.99), Indians: This will be just his seventh start of the year after battling, first, a back injury and then an ankle sprain. He appeared in good form in his most recent start, though, holding the Twins to a run in five innings on Friday.