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Updated: May 22nd, 2010 12:08am
Pelissero: Injury and all, no 'downhill spiral' this time for J.J. Hardy

Pelissero: Injury and all, no 'downhill spiral' this time for J.J. Hardy

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- J.J. Hardy's swing fell apart last summer.

And that wasn't the half of Hardy's problems.

"It was just depression. It was miserable," the shortstop said in the Minnesota Twins' clubhouse on Friday. "Everything -- I just hated everything."

It was, in Hardy's words, "a frickin' downhill spiral."

Mechanical adjustment after mechanical adjustment turned Hardy's smooth stroke into a Frankenstinian monstrosity. His confidence plummeted with his batting average.

And sometime before the Milwaukee Brewers sent him to the minors on Aug. 13 -- an incredible fall for a former All-Star six days shy of his 26th birthday -- general manager Doug Melvin was so worried he suggested Hardy see a sports psychologist.

Hardy obliged. And his problems got worse.

"That made me think more than I want to," Hardy said. "I started thinking about breathing and stuff like that at the plate rather than seeing the ball and hitting the ball, and I don't like that.

"I basically just wanted to figure out, when what was in my head was negative, I wanted to know how to bounce out of the negativity and find the positive. It got into breathing and more mechanics and stuff and I'm just like, this isn't really what I'm looking for."

Yet within this story of his descent in Milwaukee also lie the lessons Hardy believes will keep the same from happening in Minnesota.

Traded in November for outfielder Carlos Gomez, Hardy was hitting a paltry .209 through 18 games. He rebounded and was on a 7-for-18 streak, then sustained a bone bruise in his left wrist while sliding for a triple against Detroit on May 4 and hasn't played since.

Hardy is getting frustrated the wrist isn't coming around. Without question, he's frustrated.

But depression? Misery?

"I haven't felt that once this year," Hardy said. "It could be the coaching staff, the guys around here. There's a lot of things that it could be, but the fact that I've been through it and I know what I don't want to do -- I think that helps."

Standing in the visiting dugout on Friday, before Hardy's new team clobbered his old one 15-3 at Target Field, Melvin praised Hardy's character and work ethic and said the Brewers always thought he'd pull out of his slump.

So, how did the situation get to a point they felt Hardy needed his head examined?

"We live in a day that people should not defend against doing that," Melvin said. "Some of the top business people use psychologists. The top golfers in the world use them. This is a team sport, but it's individual performance that contributes to the team effort. Whenever you go through a little bit of a difficult time, it's always good to have a sounding board, just to keep your confidence level up.

"When you're slumping, you get a lot of advice. You've got a lot of people telling you a lot of things, do this, do that and everything. That's probably the toughest thing, is when you're going through a difficult time, everybody's got suggestions, and a lot of it comes from people who have never stepped in a batter's box."

Odds are, of course, the psychologist wasn't exactly a former big leaguer either. But based on Hardy's own words, it's little wonder Melvin and company thought he needed help -- and ultimately, a fresh start.

Hardy's numbers this season aren't where he wants them to be. Rehabbing the wrist injury has been more difficult than he could have imagined.

But even as the protracted recovery becomes monotonous -- the hot treatment, the cold treatment, the catch and the grounders, the swings that still put him in pain almost every time he makes contact -- J.J. Hardy is finding ways to focus on the positive that simply didn't exist for him during his final months in Milwaukee.

"Yeah, it sucks -- anytime you're hurt and you can't play, it sucks," he said. "It's going to (take time) working through it. I haven't seen live pitching for a while. But I feel pretty positive that I'm going to go out there and still be able to perform."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
In this story: J.J. Hardy
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