For a period of time after making his major league debut in June, 2014, Blaine Hardy was arguably the most effective pitcher in the Detroit Tigers' bullpen. Through August 22, Hardy posted a 1.84 ERA over 29 innings, giving up just one home run, and striking out 25 while walking just 12 batters.
Hardy had replaced Phil Coke as the primary left-handed pitcher in the bullpen, and was given the ball in some key situations. His 1.39 WHIP and 3.49 fielding independent pitching ratio (FIP) were not nearly as flattering as his 2.54 ERA, suggesting that some good fortune was involved. However, the 0.23 home runs he allowed per nine innings ranked sixth in the American league among relief pitchers who worked at least 30 innings.
Hardy's performance tailed off in September after several other pitchers were called up from the minor leagues. He logged only five innings of work, and was used as more of a lefty specialist. In that short span, he gave up three runs on seven hits and seven walks. He still managed to finish the season with an ERA of 2.54, almost a full run lower than his 3.49 FIP, but he was left off the playoff roster in favor of Kyle Lobstein. Small samples ruled the day.
Hardy spent the offseason in Chicago, where his girlfriend is attending Northwestern University. He worked out at a local college with former Tigers Curtis Granderson and Tim Byrdak.
Hardy is a 28-year-old, 6'2" left-handed pitcher from Seattle, Washington. He was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2008 amateur player draft by the Kansas City Royals. In seven seasons in the minor leagues -- the last five at the Triple-A level -- Hardy posted a 2.78 ERA with a 1.18 WHIP, striking out eight and walking fewer than three batters per nine innings.
The Royals released Hardy at the start of the 2013 season, and he was signed as a free agent by Detroit in April that year. He was assigned to Double-A Erie, where he posted a 1.63 ERA in 16 appearances. He was quickly promoted to Toledo, where he continued to impress. Hardy was eventually added to the Mud Hens' starting rotation. He finished the 2013 season with an ERA of 1.67 and a WHIP of 1.01.
Hardy impressed Tigers' management enough to get noticed during spring training in 2014, and he got the call up to make his major league debut on June 16. He remains on the major league roster, and is one of five remaining pitchers vying for probably one spot in the Tigers' bullpen, but his spring has been unimpressive thus far. The Tigers used 26 relief pitchers in 2014, and Hardy lasted through the end of the regular season. He is likely to see major league action at some point in 2015.
Stats and Projections
Hardy was added to the 40-man roster last June and has not been sent to the minors since, so he has all three minor league options remaining. With just 106 days of major league service, he has six years before he will be eligible for free agency, and three seasons before he will be eligible for arbitration. He will earn just above the major league minimum salary in 2015.