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Hardy Gets More Time In Minors, But Doesn’t Want It

February 14, 2004

MILWAUKEE—When J.J. Hardy first heard the Brewers were planning to give veteran Craig Counsell dibs on shortstop this spring, he couldn’t help but be disappointed.

“I had heard I was going to get a shot to make the team,” said Hardy, a 2001 second-round pick. “When (the trade with the Diamondbacks) happened, it was kind of a shock.”

The Brewers’ original plan was to see if Hardy, 21 and coming out of Double-A ball, could play at least a few days a week at short in the big leagues this season. That blueprint was torn up after they acquired Counsell and five other players from the Diamondbacks for Richie Sexson in November.

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin decided to pencil in Counsell, 33, as the starting shortstop, removing pressure for Hardy to try to make the jump to the majors this spring. Also, Hardy is not yet on the Brewers’ 40-man roster, and teams prefer not to add players to the roster until they have to.

“When the Sexson deal came up and we got Counsell, it made sense to let J.J. go to Triple-A and continue to develop,” Melvin said. “Then, if we need him sometime during the season, hopefully he’ll feel more comfortable.”

The ultra-competitive Hardy said he plans to put the disappointment behind him and go full-throttle in camp. Because he doesn’t know any other way to play, that won’t be difficult.

“I’m going to go to spring training with the mindset that I can still win a job,” he said. “I know my chances aren’t great. I’ve heard they want me to develop in Triple-A, and if I go there, I’ll play my butt off.

“I’m just going to take a positive approach and attitude and see what happens.”

That approach served Hardy well at Huntsville last year, where he batted .279-12-62. He made the Team USA roster for the Olympic qualifying tournament, but played sparingly. Disappointed that he lost steam in the second half of the year, he embarked on a weight and conditioning program and has put on more than 10 pounds over the winter.

“I feel a lot stronger,” he said. “I’m going to try to keep my weight up all season and be more consistent.

“I feel I’m mentally ready to play in the big leagues. You have to have confidence in yourself and be ready to compete. This is my first big league camp and I just want to fit in and relax and play, rather than think about pressure or expectations.”

—TOM HAUDRICOURT

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