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Tigers vs. Athletics Preview: Blaine Hardy’s days in the starting rotation could be numbered

Despite his strong performance, Hardy could be the odd man out of a healthy six-man rotation.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Normally, when a team gets two of its veteran starting pitchers back from the disabled list, fans are relieved. The 2018 Detroit Tigers are anything but normal, though. Getting Jordan Zimmermann and Francisco Liriano back from the DL was a relief, to a certain extent, but it also caused a rotational logjam few expected at the beginning of the season. With Blaine Hardy emerging as arguably the team’s best starter over the past six weeks, many wondered how the team would fit he, Zimmermann, and Liriano into just two open rotation spots.

The early answer, it seems, was to just create another rotation spot. The Tigers will roll with a six-man rotation for now, a prudent solution given the team’s full schedule leading up to the All-Star break.

Don’t expect it to last, though. Teams rarely roll with a six man rotation for extended periods of time, and the Tigers might look to get Michael Fulmer and Matthew Boyd back on a traditional five day schedule. The six man unit may also put more stress on a six man bullpen, should the Tigers look to keep four bench players on their 25-man roster.

That brings us to Hardy. While there’s little reason to doubt his success this year — he has a career 3.55 ERA in just over 200 innings, after all — he still might be the odd man out when the Tigers go back to a normal rotation. Contracts and veteran status are one reason, but also consider Hardy’s workload. He has never thrown more than 61 13 big league innings in a season, and has already eclipsed that workload between the majors and minors this year. Even as a 31 year old, it probably isn’t in his best interest to go buckwild and let him throw 140 innings after throwing just 73 23 frames last year.

Oakland Athletics (41-38) at Detroit Tigers (36-43)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Athletics Nation
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Frankie Montas (4-1, 2.41 ERA) vs. LHP Blaine Hardy (3-1, 3.30 ERA)

Game 80 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Montas 33.2 15.1 7.2 3.70 0.5
Hardy 43.2 17.1 5.7 3.75 0.8

Tigers fans may remember Frankie Montas, who had a cup of coffee with the Chicago White Sox in 2015. The Tigers lit him up in his first career start, scoring six runs in just three innings. He was better the second time around, with seven strikeouts in four innings, but was still a raw pitcher with a live arm and considerable promise. The White Sox traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers that offseason, and he spent a large amount of 2016 season on the disabled list recovering from injuries. He was traded to Oakland in the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill deal in the meantime, and has only pitched a handful of innings for the A’s in the past two seasons.

But three years later? That “live arm and considerable promise” scouting report still holds up. Montas has halved his walk rate in a small sample of big league innings this year, and is still averaging 97 miles per hour with his fastball despite moving to the rotation. He is primarily a two-pitch pitcher, with the slider his primary secondary offering. That slider isn’t quite a wipeout pitch yet, but is generating a whiff rate just shy of 20 percent this season. He uses the fastball heavily (nearly 75 percent of the time!) and hasn’t quite developed the strikeout touch many A’s fans were hoping for when he was first acquired.

Key matchup: Hardy vs. the homer-happy A’s

Blaine Hardy has typically been very good at limiting home runs over the course of his career. He allowed just five home runs in all from 2014 to 2016, and has done well to keep hitters in the ballpark again this season. The A’s, on the other hand, have homered in an incredible 26 consecutive road games, an MLB record. They added to that total with dingers from Stephen Piscotty and Jed Lowrie on Monday, and will be looking to continue their streak again on Tuesday evening.

Prediction

Hardy and the Tigers snap their six-game losing streak.

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