Of all the surprises the Tigers have given us so far in 2018, Blaine Hardy, Starting Pitcher might be the most shocking of them all. The 31-year-old lefthander has been better than expected through two starts so far, limiting opponents to four runs across 9 1⁄3 innings. He hasn’t been particularly efficient, but also has yet to even throw 80 pitches in any of those starts.
Naturally, the next question to ask is whether he can keep this up going forward. Hardy doesn’t have the raw stuff to warrant a higher strikeout rate, and has to hit his spots to avoid getting punished by opposing hitters. But his slider — a pitch he has thrown roughly 36 percent of the time this year — has shown the makings of a swing-and-miss offering. He also has a history of limiting home runs, though he struggled with the long ball last year.
Right now, Hardy’s biggest problem might be his stamina. He is still only limited to about 80 pitches per outing, and might be the odd man out when Jordan Zimmermann returns from the disabled list. It will be interesting to see how much the Tigers stretch him out over the next few weeks, especially if he gets knocked around a bit.
Chicago White Sox (16-33) at Detroit Tigers (22-29)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP James Shields (1-4, 4.62 ERA) vs. LHP Blaine Hardy (0-0, 3.46 ERA)
Game 52 Pitching Matchup
Shields has been a true innings eater for the White Sox so far this year, averaging over six frames per start. He is still struggling to keep runs off the board, but his ERA is nearly a full run lower than what he produced in 2017. Shields’ peripheral numbers are even better thanks to the lowest home run rate of his career. This is probably unsustainable, as fly balls are leaving the park just 5.6 percent of the time, by far the lowest rate of his career. His batted ball profile isn’t all that different, with hard hit rates almost identical to what he has done over the past couple years.
Key matchup: Tigers hitters vs. right-handed pitching
The Tigers have hit Shields well ever since he arrived in Chicago, including an .889 OPS across two starts last season. However, they have continued to struggle against right-handed pitching this year, producing a paltry 88 wRC+ so far this season. And with four of Sunday’s starters sporting a wRC+ of 80 or worse, run scoring might once again be at a premium, even if Shields is primed for regression at some point in the coming weeks.
Shields and the White Sox win the rubber match of the series.
- Recap: Tigers come back against old friend Bruce Rondon
- Tigers activate Jeimer Candelario, option Mikie Mahtook
- Roundtable: Which Tigers prospect has caught your eye in 2018?
- Podcast: Max Bultman of The Athletic stops by
- Christin Stewart homers yet again, but Mud Hens lose
- 2018 BYB meet-up set for September 8: get tickets here!