DETROIT -- At this point in the season, Blaine Hardy has no real reason to pursue what other pitchers would consider to be a normal routine. He's a reliever by trade, but on Saturday night against the Indians at Comerica Park, the Tigers asked Hardy to make his 10th start
DETROIT -- At this point in the season, Blaine Hardy has no real reason to pursue what other pitchers would consider to be a normal routine. He's a reliever by trade, but on Saturday night against the Indians at Comerica Park, the Tigers asked Hardy to make his 10th start of the season. And as he has most other times, Hardy delivered in a 2-1 win.
Hardy has been one of the most valuable players -- not just pitchers -- for a rebuilding Tigers team this season. The versatile left-hander found himself on the bump again after scheduled starter Francisco Liriano experienced an allergic reaction Thursday.
While Hardy maintains, and his numbers support, that he's comfortable both in relief and as a starter, he did admit that starting has a benefit.
"For me, there's a little less pressure as a starter," Hardy said. "You can give up a hit, you can give up two hits, you can give up a run, and you can still have a good outing."
Manager Ron Gardenhire said Friday that Hardy would be on a pitch count of 60-70 pitches, and he just eclipsed that, throwing 74 over five innings. After allowing a run in the second on three straight singles, Hardy kept the Indians at one baserunner through the next three innings. With a chance to retire the side in the fifth inning, Hardy walked Roberto Perez, the Indians' No. 9 hitter, bringing up Francisco Lindor for their third matchup. Hardy ended his night by getting Lindor, who homered twice Friday, to ground out to Jeimer Candelario at third.
"I've never been a strikeout pitcher," said Hardy, who struck out one batter Saturday. "When I get guys to 0-2, 1-2, I'm actually trying to throw a pitch that's weak contact and an out. I did a pretty good job doing that, with the exception of two or three of the hits."
Hardy (4-3) now has a 4.01 ERA in 51 2/3 innings as a starter. And especially with the increasing likelihood of the Tigers dealing away a pitcher before Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, Hardy said he tries to just take it one day at a time.
"It's all up in the air," Hardy said. "That's the mentality that I have to have, is just to keep it simple. Come in every day and be ready to go."
It's certainly not lost on Gardenhire that he has this valuable asset, either waiting for his spot in the bullpen or ready at a moment's notice to make a start.
"You have to have his kind of attitude," Gardenhire said. "He's a 'whatever' attitude, whatever you need me to do I'll do. That plays along with doing what we've done with him. He can do it a lot of different [ways], and some pitchers can't do that. They need to be more routine-oriented. This guy can do just about anything you need him to do."
Lost in the awe of how Hardy continues to make himself so useful as a starter was the Tigers' bullpen, which offered four innings of shutout ball after Hardy's exit. Drew VerHagen gave two innings of relief to get to Joe Jimenez in the eighth. Jimenez was charged with three runs in Friday's loss but responded Saturday with a scoreless frame. Shane Greene recorded his 21st save of the season.
"The fact that they were able to go four innings without a run, they're the unsung heroes of this game," Hardy said. "They did a really good job keeping the game where it was."
Hardy got a significant boost from JaCoby Jones. Following a double by Jose Iglesias in the third inning, Jones smoked a two-run homer to left to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead. Jones entered hitting just .155 in July, but his long shot Saturday marked his third home run of the month. It was his eighth of the season. Jones left the game after the sixth inning with low left back tightness and is day to day, the Tigers announced.
"It's just a little back strain, a little tightness," Jones said. "Just like when you get a little hamstring tightness or something. Just a little back tightness, nothing serious."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
With Jimenez on in the eighth to protect a one-run lead, Jose Ramirez drew a two-out walk to bring Edwin Encarnacion to the plate. Encarnacion drove a 1-0 fastball to deep right-center field, which would have easily scored Ramirez to tie the game. But center fielder Leonys Martin tracked the ball down to end the inning. According to Statcast™, Martin covered 110 feet in 5.6 seconds, good for a sprint speed of 19.6 feet/second.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Nicholas Castellanos is still making adjustments to his new home in right field, but he gained a boost of confidence Saturday when he raced to snag a fly ball hit by Brandon Guyer. The ball was tailing toward the stands in foul territory, but Castellanos caught the ball and immediately ran into the short wall.
The Tigers conclude their weekend series against the Indians with a 1:10 p.m. ET first pitch Sunday at Comerica Park. The Tigers will hand the ball to Jordan Zimmermann (4-2, 3.97 ERA). He gave up four runs over five innings in his last start against the Royals. The Indians will turn to Corey Kluber (12-6, 2.88 ERA), who has struggled over his last two starts with a 7.15 ERA in 11 1/3 innings.
Tyler Fenwick is a reporter for MLB.com based in Detroit.