It was a light night in the Royals' minors, thanks to an off-day for the NW Arkansas Naturals and…
Southpaw Hardy thriving so far in Double-A
Blaine Hardy grew up in the Pacific Northwest. After an excellent high school career in Edmonds, Washington, he attended the University of Portland during his freshman year in 2006. There he made 15 appearances for the Pilots, including seven starts. Following the season, Hardy transferred to Bellevue Community College, where he played his sophomore year and put good numbers as a reliever.
In 2008, Hardy pitched for NAIA powerhouse Lewis-Clark State College, where the southpaw put together an excellent junior campaign that grabbed the attention of professional scouts. He was 8-1 for the Warriors, compiling a stellar 2.48 ERA with 65 strikeouts and just 12 walks in 76.1 innings pitched.
That June, the Royals selected Hardy in the 22nd round of the draft, and the club assigned him to Idaho Falls. The then 21-year-old put together a solid debut for the Chukars, going 1-0 with four saves and a 4.15 ERA. In 34.2 innings pitched, he struck out 34 batters while issuing just eight walks.
Hardy debuted with the Idaho Fall Chukars in 2008
Hardy made his full season debut in 2009, opening the season with the Burlington Bees. He got off to an excellent start, climbing to #3 on RC's Hot List on May 9th, when we noted that through his first 23.2 innings pitched, he had yet to issue a single walk while fanning 28 batters. The incredible streak ended later that week, but Hardy continued pitching well. He finished the season 4-4 with nine saves and a 2.05 ERA, striking out 94 batters while walking just 17 in 92.1 innings pitched. The Midwest League hit just .215 against him.
When asked about whether or not he was surprised by his success in 2009, Hardy indicated that he wasn't completely satisfied with his performance.
"I always set high expectations for myself," said Hardy in an interview with RC last weekend. "I thought I could have done better than what my statistics said, more so just mentally in certain situations. I felt like there were certain things I should have done that I didn't. But I was happy with my season last year, and for the most part, I felt like I met my expectations."
Throughout instructs, the offseason, and spring training, club officials began mentioning Hardy as an advanced arm who could move quickly and be ready to help the big league club in a relatively short timeframe. When asked about his reaction to this kind of attention, Hardy remained low-key.
"I'm not going to expect anything," said Hardy. "Even if they say ‘this guy might be called up in the next couple of weeks,' I'm just going to keep going about my day like it's just another day. Just go out there and pitch, and if things go well, hopefully someday it will happen."
If Hardy had any doubts about the organization's high opinion of him, they were likely alleviated when the Royals assigned him to Double-A NW Arkansas out of spring training, skipping the High-A level entirely.
"At first, I was a little bit surprised," said Hardy of his rapid promotion. "Usually you go level by level, and I didn't get to Wilmington last year so I figured I'd at least start out there. But they threw me a curveball and put me up here, and I'm just going to make the best of it and try my hardest and see what happens."
Hardy skipped High-A and is pitching for the Naturals this season
So far, so good. Hardy made his Double-A debut on April 10 against the San Antonio Missions, pitching in relief of starter Eduardo Paulino. With the Naturals trailing 3-2, the 6-foot-2 southpaw entered the game in the fifth inning and was outstanding. After surrendering a leadoff bunt single, Hardy shut down the Missions for three innings, recording two strikeouts while retiring the final nine men in order. His effort allowed the Naturals to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh, and another run in the eighth gave the club its second win of the season.
"It was jittery at first, but after a few pitches I started to get a little more comfortable up there," said Hardy of his Double-A debut. "I thought I did pretty well for my first outing in Double-A. I didn't expect to only give up one hit, but if you keep the ball down, then good things will happen."
Since his debut, Hardy has made two more appearances, each as good as his first. In 8.0 innings thus far, he's yet to surrender his first run, and he's yielded just three hits and one walk while fanning four hitters. So far, the Texas League is hitting just .111 against the 195 lbs. lefty.
Hardy throws a fastball, changeup, and curveball. He has excellent command to both sides of the plate with the fastball, which typically sits at 88-90 mph.
"I basically just keep the fastball down and locate it in and out," said Hardy. "It's pretty easy to get hitters out just locating the fastball."
His changeup, which he throws between 77-79 mph, is also a very good pitch with excellent tailing action. The curveball, however, remains as something of a work in progress.
"I didn't even really have a curveball last year," said Hardy. "[The Royals] have been working here and there with it. In the pen I'll throw a couple of good ones. It's slowly getting better, but I really don't think it's game-ready right now. It's more of a flip-me-over than a strikeout pitch, which is what I'm looking for out of it."
It will be interesting to follow Hardy's development this season. The Royals place a premium on pitching prospects with good fastball command, and Hardy has been among the best control pitchers in the organization for the last two years. Given the Royals' bullpen woes, it's not difficult to understand the reasoning behind Hardy's aggressive promotion. If he continues to throw strikes with his fastball and changeup, and if he makes some strides with his breaking ball, he could feasibly see Kansas City faster than anyone expected.
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