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Hardy earning bigger role in Tigers' bullpen

CLEVELAND -- Blaine Hardy had faced the Indians three times in June entering Tuesday's contest at Progressive Field. He took a blown lead and a loss the first time on June 13 at Comerica Park, retiring only one of three batters he faced. A day later, Hardy got a hold out of two scoreless innings.

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On Monday, Hardy entered in the fourth inning, faced seven batters and retired them all in Detroit's 8-5 win in the series opener.

It was his Hardy's first out that saved the game, retiring Jason Kipnis with the bases loaded and the Tigers holding a four-run lead. But it was the other six outs that might be more important to his role.

"This isn't a formula for winning, because you'll end up burning your bullpen out by the time August rolls around," manager Brad Ausmus. "But there are times when you might have to make a decision early and we'll have to try to work our way through it."

With Alex Wilson now getting occasional setup work, the Tigers have had to identify relievers who can cover long relief and protect a lead. It's a role that got Hardy to the big leagues last year, but one he got away from as Ausmus used him more as a short-outing lefty. Monday showed Hardy can still do it.

"I think it was just one of those things where you pitch a guy until he has failure," said Hardy, who earned the win in relief of Kyle Ryan. "I was able to avoid that."

Hardy entered Tuesday with 10 innings of two-run ball in June, allowing six hits with no walks and seven strikeouts. He had stranded all seven runners he inherited for the month.

The difference seems to be the breaking ball, a pitch that can get him swings and misses.

"Other than that one outing against Cleveland at home, his curveball has been pretty good since maybe the end of April," Ausmus said.

To Hardy, however, it has been more consistent lately.

"It's a lot better," Hardy said. "I'm actually able to throw it when I want to. When I was in Spring Training, it would show peaks here and there where it would be like, 'Oh, here it is,' then it disappeared for like two weeks and I'd rely on everything else. But it's definitely coming along. It's where I want it right now, and hopefully it'll stay there."

It's the pitch Hardy used to retire Kipnis on Monday, albeit on a hard-hit liner to right field.

"He put a good swing on it," Hardy said, "but that's why you've got players behind you."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.
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