Hardy hoping he's in 'good' place with O's

Hardy hoping he's in 'good' place with O's

SARASOTA, Fla. -- J.J. Hardy has been the young All-Star infielder -- belting 26 homers in 2007 as part of a budding crop of Brewers' talent -- and less than two years later, the Triple-A player sitting in a hotel room with the news that his free agency clock has been set back another year.

He spent years in the Minor Leagues relearning to swing after blowing out his left shoulder in Triple-A, and the last two seasons in Milwaukee looking over it as fans clamored for the imminent arrival of shortstop Alcides Escobar.

Hardy has tried to change his mental game, going along with then-Brewers manager Ken Macha's suggestion that he see a sports psychologist, which resulted in an anti-depressant medication that Hardy deems "his worst decision ever." He altered his approach at the plate at the Twins' urging last season, swapping his power stroke for Minnesota's preference for punching singles.

So, when Hardy finished his first round of batting practice last month and saw Orioles hitting coach Jim Presley walking toward him, his first inclination was, what now?

"I thought 'Here we go again,'" said Hardy, who was traded to Baltimore this winter. "But [Presley] goes, 'What is your approach?' And he just started talking about my approach, and he said basically everything I wanted to hear."

Presley didn't need to preach philosophy. He just wanted Hardy to quit trying to be someone else.

"I told him you got to get back to what made you successful," said Presley, who saw Hardy from the other dugout when he was the Marlins hitting coach and Hardy was a Brewer.

"That [swing] was not the same swing I saw back then. I just wanted to get him in a more aggressive state of mind at the plate ... I said 'I saw you good. Nobody else has seen you good in '07 and '08. Let's try to get back to that.'"

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So far, so good for Hardy, who is hitting .370 (10-for-27) with a double, a homer and three RBIs in his first nine spring games. While the Orioles' new power bats -- third baseman Mark Reynolds and designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero -- have gotten more attention, Hardy is two seasons removed from back-to-back 20-plus homers and 70-plus RBI campaigns.

"He's been told to just stay the other way, and he said 'I kind of lost my swing, I lost my juice,'" said Presley, who calls the lean Hardy "stringy strong."

"I told him to get rid of that thought because we are fixing it. He's not a [punching] Judy. This guy doesn't flare the ball the other way. He's got some juice and he can drive some runs in."

That is, if he can stay healthy, a nagging question that has followed Hardy his entire Major League career. His shoulder injury in the Minors was his first surgery, and Hardy admits now that he mentally mismanaged it, not realizing just how long it would take to come back. He had season-ending ankle surgery in '06 and didn't want to be shelved again in Minnesota, so he played through a left wrist strain last season, a nagging injury that never went away.

"I felt like every swing hurt," said Hardy, who seesawed on-and-off the disabled list.

When he could tolerate the injury, which was diagnosed as a bone bruise, Hardy didn't do any extra hitting in an attempt to save his "good swings" for the game.

"It would help, but I was still dealing with some pain," said Hardy who managed six homers and 38 RBIs in 101 games. "That's really all I could have done. I felt like I got some singles, and that was basically what I could do."

The Twins' payroll-extended by several long-term contracts -- made the arbitration-eligible Hardy expendable and Minnesota dealt him along with infielder Brendan Harris to Baltimore in exchange for a pair of pitching prospects. The 28-year-old Hardy will make $5.85 million in 2011.

Now with his third organization, Hardy has another chance to start fresh and get his career back on track. He's been here before, but this time he's using his past in a good way.

"The fact that I've done it, I've been there, helps me believe I can do it," Hardy said of returning to his '07 and '08 form.

"I'm healthy, I feel like I'm back to my old approach. "[I'm] very, very confident that it can happen."

Added Presley: "This kid can hit 15, 17 homers and drive in 65-70 RBIs. That right there would make us a better team as far as winning ballgames."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.