ANAHEIM -- The good news for Blaine Hardy is that he shouldn't have to look out to the Tigers' bullpen soon. With Mike Fiers now in Oakland, Hardy at last has a pretty safe grasp on a spot in Detroit's rotation.That did not make things any easier on the left-hander
ANAHEIM -- The good news for Blaine Hardy is that he shouldn't have to look out to the Tigers' bullpen soon. With Mike Fiers now in Oakland, Hardy at last has a pretty safe grasp on a spot in Detroit's rotation.
That did not make things any easier on the left-hander as he watched balls fly over the outfield fences of Angel Stadium. After five weeks of homerless innings, and a no-hit bid into the seventh frame of his last start, Hardy watched the long ball be his downfall in Wednesday afternoon's 6-0 loss to the Halos. Ex-teammate Justin Upton's two-run homer and solo shots from Jose Pujols and Kole Calhoun finished off a three-game series sweep and a winless West Coast trip for the Tigers.
The Tigers scored eight runs on their six-game road trip, their lowest-scoring six-game stretch since September 2005.
"We've just got a lot of guys struggling at the same time," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "A lot of younger players [are] fighting it. You know what, we play better at home, so it'll be nice to get home."
Hardy (4-4) has bounced between the Tigers' rotation and bullpen with success for most of the season, solidifying his place on Detroit's roster -- no small feat for a pitcher who was designated for assignment in Spring Training and went unclaimed. That in itself has made the season a victory for the 31-year-old, but he admittedly would still like to use this stint to make a case for going into next Spring Training and competing for a full-time starting job.
Wednesday's outing won't go on the resume. With a first-pitch temperature of 94 degrees and a slight wind blowing out, fly balls carried, and a power-hitting Angels lineup took advantage of pitches left up enough to elevate.
"I'm not going to make excuses," Hardy said. "Having a high pitch count last time and then going out there in the hot heat, I was probably more fatigued than usual. But in the end, I didn't have my best stuff today. Three or four pitches, they made me pay for it."
Hardy hadn't given up a home run since June 26, a span covering 21 2/3 innings, until Calhoun sent his second pitch of the afternoon 404 feet to center field. A walk and back-to-back singles plated another first-inning run before Hardy settled down to retire 10 of his next 11 batters.
Upton, who played with Hardy and several other current Tigers over the previous couple seasons before being traded to the Angels last August, began the stretch of back-to-back homers that doomed the lefty by working a 1-2 count full. Upton fouled off a 3-2 fastball over the plate, prompting Hardy to try to send him swinging at a changeup low and out of the zone. The offspeed pitch caught enough of the inside corner for Upton to extend his arms and drive a ball deep to left for his second homer in as many games and his 23rd long ball of the season.
"He knew I was throwing a changeup. I knew I was throwing a changeup. I'm pretty sure everyone knew I was going to throw a changeup," Hardy said. "And if I locate it well, he can't do much with it. But I ended up yanking it a little bit, and it ended up being right in his swing path."
Two pitches later, Pujols connected on a hanging curveball and drove it out to left-center for his 18th home run of the year, building a 5-0 lead. That was insurmountable for the Tigers, whose offense fell back into its late-season funk after breaking out for five runs in a loss Tuesday night.
Hardy yielded seven hits over five innings with a walk and three strikeouts. Artie Lewicki, called up from Triple-A Toledo earlier in the day, struck out five batters in three innings of relief, but by game's end, the Tigers looked ready to get home.
"It's frustrating," catcher James McCann said. "It's a big-time mental test. It's one of those things that builds character. No one likes to lose. No one likes to struggle. But when it does happen, how do you bounce back? How do you fight? It makes you better in the long run because of it."
The Tigers' struggles against the Angels aren't simply a product of their current circumstance. They're 12-31 against the Halos since September 2012, and 7-24 at Angel Stadium since '10.
HE SAID IT
"They're going to go through ups and downs. We just have a lot of people going through the downs right now, all together, and it's just kind of a cloud over the lineup. They're trying to get hits. They're trying to drive in runs. It's a struggle." -- Gardenhire
The Tigers get a badly-needed off-day Thursday upon returning from the West Coast before opening a six-game homestand on Friday with a 7:10 p.m. ET game against the Twins at Comerica Park. Jordan Zimmermann (4-4, 4.31 ERA) gets the start trying to end a personal four-game losing streak. Ervin Santana (0-0, 6.14 ERA) will take the ball for Minnesota.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.