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Tigers vs. Red Sox Preview: The Blaine Hardy Show is shipping up to Boston

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Hardy is in search of his third game of the year as the Tigers battle the red-hot Red Sox.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

I’m still amazed by what Blaine Hardy has been able to do this season. Sure, it has only been four starts — and four starts against fairly mediocre offenses, to boot — but Hardy has successfully transitioned from the bullpen to the rotation. Better yet, he has done so at 31 years old with a fastball that barely scrapes 90 miles per hour.

Even better still is that Hardy has figured out how to be more efficient. He threw just 85 pitches in his dominant seven-inning outing against the Chicago White Sox, and was able to work six frames against the Toronto Blue Jays in 88 pitches — and would have been better were it not for four walks.

Now, Hardy gets to deal with the vaunted Red Sox lineup in Fenway Park. Even though the Sox haven’t been so great against lefties this year, it’s still a major step up in competition from the relatively lackluster batting orders Hardy as faced so far.

Can Hardy knock out yet another win as a member of the rotation?

Detroit Tigers (29-33) at Boston Red Sox (42-19)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Fenway Park
SB Nation site: Over the Monster
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Game 1 Pitching Matchup: LHP Blaine Hardy (2-0, 2.77 ERA) vs. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (6-1, 3.88 ERA)

Game 63 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Hardy 26.0 19.1 7.6 3.61 0.6
Rodriguez 60.1 28.2 7.8 3.59 1.0

If you’re not sure what exactly a well-executed trade deadline deal can bring, look no further than Eduardo Rodriguez. The Red Sox lefty is a one-time Baltimore Orioles prospect who the O’s dealt to their division rival for reliever Andrew Miller, a two-month rental at the time. The O’s got an ALCS berth out of the deal, but the Sox have won long-term with Rodriguez, who is currently enjoying his best year yet. He has slightly improved both his strikeout and walk rates relative to 2017, when he was a solid two-win pitcher in between injuries.

Even this year, Rodriguez is still recovering from a patellar subluxation injury he suffered last season. He had surgery to correct the issue back in October, and has not shown any ill-effects so far. His fastball is averaging 93.6 miles per hour, nearly identical to what it has been over the past couple years. He has started to mix in his cutter again, a high-80s pitch he used in 2015 and 2016 but cut out last season. It’s fairly standard as far as cutters go; it doesn’t miss many bats, but opponents pound it into the ground 50 percent of the time. His changeup is his put-away pitch, but he actually uses it more against left-handed hitters than righties. In fact, he throws the cutter just as often as the change when he gets ahead against right-handed hitters.

Key matchup: Red Sox hitters vs. those pesky lefthanders

The Red Sox have one of the best offenses in baseball. They have scored 326 runs so far this year, just one shy of the MLB lead. They have hit 90 home runs, also second in baseball. Ditto their 113 wRC+ as a club. The lineup is dangerous from top to bottom.

But somehow, they are the American League’s worst offense against left-handed pitching. The Sox have a paltry 82 wRC+ against southpaws this season, a stat that feels like a typo given the amount of right-handed talent on their roster. Those players haven’t been the problem, though J.D. Martinez’s 106 wRC+ against lefties is a huge drop-off from what he has done against righthanders. The problem has been elsewhere, actually, with lefthanders Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, and Jackie Bradley struggling mightily. And with Mookie Betts injured and Hanley Ramirez no longer around, the Sox will be forced to play more of those lefties against Hardy, who has limited lefty hitters to a .269 on-base percentage this year.

Prediction

Hardy suffers his first loss of the 2018 season.

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