CHICAGO -- Blaine Hardy isn't giving up his rotation spot easily, and he might not have to. The Tigers, meanwhile, continue to hold their spot in the Indians' rear-view mirror.The last time the Tigers were at .500, they were 4-4 after sweeping the White Sox in Chicago on the first
CHICAGO -- Blaine Hardy isn't giving up his rotation spot easily, and he might not have to. The Tigers, meanwhile, continue to hold their spot in the Indians' rear-view mirror.
The last time the Tigers were at .500, they were 4-4 after sweeping the White Sox in Chicago on the first weekend of April. They came close a couple other times that month before falling back. As they left Chicago again Sunday, having finished off another three-game sweep of the Sox with a 3-1 win, they're back within a game, at 36-37.
With a five-game winning streak, they're threatening the break-even mark at a point later than last year's team last stood with its head above water. Detroit's current record is four games better than the veteran-laden 2017 club had through 73 games, and the Tigers remain within 2 1/2 games of Cleveland in the American League Central.
Whether or not they're considered competitive for the two-time AL Central champions, they're competing in general. Unburdened by expectations, they continue to beat teams they're expected to beat, and they take games from contending clubs. They're taking what was a surprising start and stretching it beyond that.
"Any team wants to be over .500. It's kind of that mark that lets you know you're playing good baseball," said Hardy, whose 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball continued his surprising stretch in the Tigers' rotation. "When we're within 2 1/2 games of the Indians at this point, that's a good sign, especially since we go [to Cleveland for three games next weekend]. We can go in there and say we have full control over what the standings will be.
"It's huge, especially in the circumstances that we have right now. We need to try to make a push, and I think we're doing a good job of it."
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Hardy (3-1) might best represent the Tigers' season to date. After being designated for assignment in Spring Training and left unclaimed, brought back on the roster in May, then bumped into the rotation late last month by necessity, his pitching has forced the Tigers to continue keeping him in the role. He owns a 3.40 ERA while filling in for the injured Francisco Liriano in the rotation, and has allowed two runs or fewer in six of seven starts. He missed out on a quality start by two outs Sunday, and might have gotten there if not for the heat wave that enveloped Chicago.
With a game-time temperature of 92 degrees, Hardy did his best to keep Detroit's position players from wilting in the heat, delivering pitches quickly and innings efficiently. Matt Davidson's second-inning home run was the lefty's only scoring damage. Hardy retired eight in a row from the third inning until Kevan Smith's infield single chased him with one out in the sixth.
"I'm not trying to say I was trying to speed up to get back inside for the cool-off period," Hardy said, "but there were definitely times when I was like, 'Here you go. Hit it.'"
Leonys Martin returned the favor with a highlight catch, crashing into the center-field fence to rob Tim Anderson in the fifth.
"He throws a lot of strikes, man," Martin said. "That's all you have to do, throw strikes. You throw a lot of strikes and force the hitters to swing the bat. And then we're always aware of what's going on. That's good."
Liriano is expected back next weekend, but Hardy has pitched well enough that Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire said Sunday morning that the Tigers are working on a potential six-man rotation to carry them through the All-Star break. Even as the bullpen toils without a lefty reliever, Hardy's performance as a starter has forced Detroit's staff to think creatively and give pitchers extra rest.
"We've been really thinking this thing through," Gardenhire said.
Hardy pitched with a lead from the moment he took the mound thanks to Nicholas Castellanos, who homered for the third time in two days and the ninth time this season. His drive to left field made White Sox starter James Shields (2-8) pay for a first-inning walk to Jeimer Candelario. Niko Goodrum doubled and scored on a Jose Iglesias single in the fourth.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Jimenez fans side in ninth: With closer Shane Greene off Sunday following four saves in as many days, Joe Jimenez took the ninth inning in search of his second big league save. Facing the bottom of the White Sox order, he threw 96+ mph fastballs with his first 10 pitches, and 98 mph on his last, to strike out the side.
"It was hot outside," Jimenez said. "I was quick."
The Tigers' six consecutive road wins over the White Sox match their longest winning streak on Chicago's South Side since July 15, 1979, to Aug. 26, 1980.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Martin has shown his range to cover ground in center field all season, but his highlight catch Sunday showed him at the limits of it. Anderson's drive sent him back to the linked fence in right-center, but he made the catch just before colliding with it. He hit with enough force that his right wrist still had marks from the fence on it after the game.
"It's not a soft fence," Martin joked.
HE SAID IT
"We just go out there and try to get every single win. That's it. We got close a couple weeks ago, and then we're here again. We only care about getting every single game. That's all." -- Martin, on the .500 mark
The Tigers are off Monday before their road trip resumes in Cincinnati with a 7:10 p.m. ET start on Tuesday against the Reds at Great American Ball Park. Matthew Boyd (4-4, 3.23 ERA) will take the mound -- and a bat -- for Detroit, opposite Sal Romano (3-7, 5.67).
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.