Shortstop hits third homer in as many days as Baltimore racks up 12 dingers over span
By David Wilson
Special to MLB.com |
SARASOTA, Fla. -- For the past two days, the Orioles' starting pitchers have struggled. First was Chris Tillman, roughed up for five earned runs in four innings Friday. On Saturday, Yovani Gallardo coughed up seven runs 3 2/3 innings.
In those two games, Baltimore is 2-0. The O's have scored 27 runs.
The Orioles' offense is finally clicking, and Baltimore has a three-game winning streak because of it. After launching three home runs in a win against the Pirates on Thursday, the O's hit five in Friday's 10-inning win against the Yankees and four more in Saturday's 16-8 rout of the Red Sox.
During this power display, eight Orioles have combined for 12 home runs -- including six who are safe bets to be on the Opening Day roster. Three O's have homered in multiple games, including J.J. Hardy, who has homered in all three in this span.
It wasn't long ago that the shortstop was a centerpiece of playoff teams in Baltimore. He was an All-Star in 2013 and played 141 games during the Orioles' American League East championship season in '14.
Last season, Hardy played through a torn labrum in his left shoulder and posted career lows in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Manager Buck Showalter has been confident in his rejuvenation since the spring began. His recent outburst at the plate has been a culmination.
"It was a big thing for us last year, and it's a tribute to him," Showalter said. "All you had to do was look at '14, when he was healthy, and '13. People forget this is a shortstop capable of hitting 20-30 home runs and hitting .270 when healthy."
Hardy is now batting .333 in 39 Grapefruit League at-bats with the three home runs and six RBIs. Showalter said he could tell from the start of Spring Training that this was coming because Hardy's body language was back to what it was during his best seasons and he was moving more smoothly.
Hardy's return to form the past three days has helped Baltimore fill out its identity as a team with enough power and hitting to overcome its deficiencies on the mound.
This turn isn't a surprise to Showalter, either. Once his team found a rhythm, a breakout seemed inevitable. A three-game homestand provided the perfect opportunity.
"I told everybody in the first week of March, with the schedule and everything, what should happen," Showalter said. "When we get to this period with these three days at home and guys are starting to catch up a little bit -- it's good to be right about one thing this spring.
"A lot of guys now get a day or two away from it, and then we'll go back at it hard again toward the end."
David Wilson is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.