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Orioles want to move sure-handed Hardy out of No. 2 spot

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Associated Press
2/20/2013 4:34:31 PM
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SARASOTA, Fla. -- Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter puts it bluntly. He wants to move J.J. Hardy out of the second spot in the lineup. The Orioles shortstop is coming off his best year defensively -- and a year he'd like to forget offensively.

In a season where Baltimore surprised and won 93 games, Hardy won his first Gold Glove in the majors. Along with centerfielder Adam Jones and catcher Matt Wieters, Hardy gave the Orioles solid defence -- and spotty offence.

"I look at it as one of the worst offensive seasons I've had," Hardy said.

In 2012, Hardy batted .238 with 22 home runs and 68 RBIs. It was his first year of a three-year $22.25 million contract -- an extension he earned during a solid 2011 season.

That year, he hit 30 homers with 80 RBIs and a .269 average in 129 games -- 29 fewer than he played last season.

During a particularly discouraging stretch, Hardy watched as his batting average fell from .261 in mid-June to .216 a month later. Baltimore was in the midst of its first winning season in 15 years, and Hardy was helping with his glove.

"When you're playing well defensively, and you're winning, it does help -- for sure. Had we been losing, I think my offence would have been brought up last season -- and it wasn't brought up that much," Hardy said.

He doesn't draw many walks, and Showalter feels he'd be more effective lower in the batting order. Perhaps it would have helped last year.

"Instead of going 0 for 5, maybe it would have been 0 for 4," Hardy said.

When he came to the major leagues in 2005 with Milwaukee, Hardy was known as a defensive shortstop. In 2007 and 2008, Hardy combined to hit 50 home runs and drive in 154 runs, but in 2009, he was slumping so badly, the Brewers sent him to the minors. He thought about that a lot last year he struggled.

"I would compare it to the season I had in '09 when I got sent down. Maybe my numbers were better when I got sent down than last year," Hardy said.

Hardy's position in the batting order may depend on Brian Roberts' health. If the second baseman can regain his form, Roberts could bat leadoff and Nick Markakis second. If Roberts can't play, the Orioles may have to bat Hardy second -- unless Showalter decides second-year third baseman Manny Machado is comfortable enough batting second.

It's all dependent on Hardy's swing. It was off last season.

"If I was hitting, five, six, seven, I don't know if it would have made that much of a difference other than one less at-bat per game. Had I been swinging the bat well, it wouldn't have been an issue," Hardy said.

There are no complaints about his defence. Showalter is always raving about the nuances of Hardy's defensive game, and he's so good at short, there was never any consideration to moving him when Machado was brought up. Machado played shortstop in the minors, but was placed at third when he joined the Orioles last August, shoring up the team defensively.

Hardy would like to play often. Last year, he set his career high in games.

"I'd like to play more. If I can stay in the lineup, I'd like to play 162, Hardy said. "I'd like to be a lot more consistent offensively, be able to play 162."

Notes: Orioles OF Nick Markakis returned to Baltimore for a family funeral. He's expected back on Friday. ... Baltimore played its first pair of intrasquad games on Wednesday and will play another on Thursday before the first game on Saturday against Minnesota.

J.J. Hardy (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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