BALTIMORE — With so much attention paid to the free agents who departed in the offseason, we often forget about the one the Orioles didn’t allow to get away.
Re-signed to a three-year, $40 million contract on the eve of the 2014 American League Championship Series, Hardy is still finding his bearings at the plate after missing six weeks with a left shoulder strain. But the go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning of Thursday’s 5-4 win over Seattle had Hardy and the Orioles feeling much better.
How does his shoulder feel with two weeks of games under his belt?
“Good and the rest of the body [feels good],” said Hardy, who singled sharply up the middle off right-hander Danny Farquhar to plate Chris Davis and give the Orioles a series win. “That first week I came back felt like spring training all over again and my whole body was sore. But everything feels good now.”
With initial concerns about his shoulder now at ease, the 32-year-old is still trying to find his way with the bat despite hitting two home runs in his first eight games. It’s the second straight year in which an injury has disrupted the start of Hardy’s season after a back ailment suffered in the first week of the 2014 season lingered all year.
As a result of the cranky back, the shortstop hit just nine homers in 2014 after he’d averaged just under 26 per season in each of his first three years in Baltimore. That’s what has made his early home runs an encouraging sign in 2015 despite Hardy slugging just .348 in his first 48 plate appearances.
Thursday’s game-winning hit provided a boost as the Orioles have struggled to score runs in the month of May.
“It’s nice to get hits when you’re feeling like I feel right now,” Hardy said. “Every day I’m making adjustments. I feel like one day I go up there with a different stance [and] next at-bat a different stance. I’m just trying to feel something that feels good and have something to work off of, so it’s definitely nice getting hits when you’re not feeling great.”
Hardy’s defense alone makes him a valuable commodity, but the Orioles need his traditional offensive contributions to help make up for the problems they’re experiencing at the corner outfield spots, traditional run-producing positions.
Of course, manager Buck Showalter isn’t panicking over the veteran infielder’s start, trusting that Hardy will make the necessary adjustments after a long layoff that cost him the first 25 games of the season.
“He’s not there yet where he’s going to be offensively, but he found a way to get it done [Thursday],” Showalter said. “His confidence is fine. With his track record, it’s not his first year in the big leagues. He doesn’t have to get a hit May 20 to be confident. We all know.”