Hardy, who couldn't bear to watch the Brewers over the final week of 2006 while he recovered at home from ankle surgery, hit a solo home run and added a sacrifice fly in the Brewers' 4-1 win over the Brewers at Maryvale Baseball Park on Monday.
"It's been so long," a beaming Hardy said afterward. "It was just nice to get out on the field again and run around."
Hardy turned on a 3-and-1 fastball from left-hander Zach Jackson and sent it over the left-field fence. Utility man Vinny Rottino also hit a solo homer for the victorious "blue" team, and Corey Hart's booming solo homer, which hit the left-field scoreboard on a bounce, accounted for the "gold" team's only run.
Manager Ned Yost said he was pleased with the defensive play in the game, which lasted about two hours and featured all but two of the team's position players. Starters Chris Capuano, Ben Sheets, Jeff Suppan and Claudio Vargas each threw a scoreless inning, catcher Johnny Estrada threw out a pair of would-be basestealers and Gabe Gross, playing right field, made the spring's first diving catch.
It was a symbolic step forward for Hardy, who made his Major League debut on Opening Day 2005 but has yet to live up to the team's high expectations. He scuffled through the first half of his rookie season while building strength and trust in his surgically-repaired left shoulder, and his 2006 season was cut short when he severely sprained his ankle on a play at home plate on May 19. The sprain healed, but Hardy developed trouble with a tendon that "snapped" painfully in and out of place, and he eventually opted for surgery on July 20.
"The time when I was trying to rehab was probably the hardest because you didn't know if it was ever going to get better," he said. "When surgery came along, at least I knew what I needed to do."
Hardy went home to Tempe, Ariz., after the surgery. He kept in touch with Hart, Bill Hall and others, but watching games on television and reading about the team online was too painful.
"It's just too hard when you're away," he said. "That's why it feels so great to be back."
His power on Monday was a good sign. After returning from a dislocated shoulder he suffered midway through 2004, Hardy went through a stint in the Mexican Winter League, all of Spring Training and 125 regular season at-bats before hitting his first home run.
Was Yost encouraged?
"J.J. is going to be fine," he said. "I've got no doubts. I'm not encouraged, I expect it!"
Mench, Graffanino held out: Outfielder Kevin Mench tweaked an elbow during a weightlifting session Sunday and did not play Monday.
"He pulled down on a weight machine and felt something in his elbow, so we had the doctors check it today," Yost said. "It didn't hurt him to throw, but the doctors wanted to check him. He'll probably play [Tuesday.]"
Infielder Tony Graffanino also sat out. Yost said he wanted to give Graffanino, who reported to camp a day early but was nonetheless one of the final position players to show, more opportunities to hit in the cage before he played a game.
No battles: Yost dropped quite an interesting tidbit on reporters following Monday's workout: He already knows the likely makeup of the Opening Day roster.
"I know what I'm going to do right now," he said with a smile, adding, "It's too early to tell you guys. Plus, I have to see some things."
That was quite a declaration, given that Yost, his coaches and Brewers front office officials have in past seasons deliberated on the roster right up to the close of camp. This year's Brewers are set in the starting rotation, but there are several pitchers vying for the final spot or two in the bullpen, third base is uncertain while Corey Koskie recovers from a concussion, and a slew of experienced outfielders are wondering if they'll have a spot on Opening Day.
One of the players in limbo is Rottino, a Wisconsin native who has been lugging four gloves around Maryvale Baseball Park this spring while working at catcher, first base, third base and the outfield. He arrives at about 6:30 a.m. each day to get loose and to take some early swings in the batting cage, serves mostly as a catcher during practice and has been working each morning and afternoon on his defense at other positions. He is in bed by 9 or 9:30 p.m. every night.
Rottino played third base on Monday and hit his homer off right-hander Yovani Gallardo.
"Your competitiveness comes out, even if it is intrasquad," Rottino said. "I'm just going to play and see what happens, because you can't control anything except the way you play."
Of his heavy workload, he said, "It's not a burden. I love it."
Last call: Third base prospect Ryan Braun made a slick fielding play leading off the game. He fielded a Rickie Weeks bunt and threw to first for the out. "It was a great bunt," Yost said. "I didn't think there was any way he could throw [Weeks] out." ... Weeks, who had a sore wrist last week, is still being told not to swing at live pitching. But he did play second base and either bunted or tracked pitches during his at-bats. Right-hander Mike Jones walked Weeks on four pitches later in the game. ... Brewers director of pro scouting Dick Groch worked the radar gun and said Grant Balfour, Jones, Manny Parra and Claudio Vargas threw with encouraging velocity Monday. ... After Damian Miller lined out Monday, he walked back to the dugout and pronounced, "It's starting already!"
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.