Healthy Hardy regains his power

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 23, 2011 - 7:25 AM

After spending two stints on the DL in his lone year with the Twins, the shortstop has found Baltimore much to his liking.

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A fan in a Joe Mauer jersey reached up for a foul ball Monday night at Target Field, denying Mauer himself the chance at a catch after roaming over from his first base position.

"Was it a Mauer fan?" J.J. Hardy said with a grin. "Somebody said he was wearing a Hardy jersey."

Hardy took advantage of this Steve Bartman-esque moment, drilling his 24th homer later in the at-bat against Carl Pavano, which gave the Orioles a fifth-inning lead en route to a 4-1 victory over the Twins at Target Field.

It was Hardy's first game at Target Field since the Dec. 9 trade that sent him to the Orioles for minor league pitchers Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson, and the shortstop clearly enjoyed himself.

Hardy went 1-for-3 with a sacrifice, a walk and two runs scored. He is batting .269 with 60 RBI this season. His 24 homers are the most for an American League East shortstop since Miguel Tejada had 24 for Baltimore in 2006.

Meanwhile, Hoey is back in Class AAA Rochester after posting a 7.71 ERA in 17 games for Minnesota, and Jacobson has a 4.70 ERA for Class AA New Britain. So any Twins fan wearing a Hardy jersey this week is doing it as a sign of protest.

A left wrist injury sent Hardy to the disabled list twice last year, as he batted .268 with six homers and 38 RBI in 101 games.

He was making $5.1 million, and the Twins didn't want to give him a raise through arbitration, so they took the best offer they could get.

"[Hardy] was probably going to be nontendered, as was Delmon [Young]," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said, comparing it to the trade that sent Young to the Tigers last week. "If you're going to nontender him, then you have to get somebody for him rather than just let him go."

Hardy said he thought he had a 90 percent chance of returning to the Twins.

"When I left here, I was mad," he said. "I made a lot of friends here. It felt like a slap in the face a little bit to me."

Hardy, 29, is making $5.85 million this year and playing solid defense again, with only five errors in 95 games at shortstop. Last month, the Orioles gave him a three-year extension that will pay him $22.25 million over the next three years.

Asked if it's been tough watching Hardy flourish, Twins General Manager Bill Smith said: "No, because J.J. Hardy is a good person. He worked hard when he was here. Unfortunately he battled some injuries, but he was part of a division-winning team."

Hardy said his left wrist bothered him briefly this spring.

"I got a little nervous going, 'Oh no, here we go again,' " he said. "But the trainers worked on it, got rid of it in about a week, and I haven't dealt with it since."

Without the wrist pain, Hardy admits he is swinging for the fences more now. He looks like the player who hit 26 and 24 home runs, respectively, for the Brewers in 2007 and '08.

Camden Yards is a hitter's paradise. The power alleys are so small, Mike Mussina once said pitching there is like "pitching in a Volkswagen."

Hardy is batting .301 at home, compared to .240 on the road, but more than half of his homers -- 13 of 24 -- have come away from Camden Yards. As a pull hitter, he said it probably wouldn't matter which ballpark he called home.

"I've always been a guy who, when I hit the ball to left, I've got a chance to leave [the yard], and if I hit it anywhere else, no chance," he said.

Hardy pulled Monday's home run, too, lining the ball into the left-field bleachers. Last year, he hit only one of his six homers at Target Field.

Besides Camden Yards, Hardy gets to play in other AL East hitter-friendly venues such as Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium and Rogers Centre.

"Really in this league, anyplace you go is better than here [at Target Field] when it comes to driving the ball," Hardy said. "And, other than the White Sox during the summertime, there aren't very many good hitter's ballparks in this [AL Central] division like there is where I'm at now."

It was hard to see it last year, but Hardy is a power-hitting shortstop, thriving again in ballparks everywhere.

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