Twins' hitting coach on Hardy's criticism: 'I kind of know the truth'
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Minnesota Twins entered an Aug. 22 home game against the Baltimore Orioles last year 16 games under .500 and 13 games out of first place, which was probably painful enough.
J.J. Hardy made the pain worse when he took Carl Pavano into the left-field seats for his 24th home run of the season -- in his first game back at Target Field after being traded for Jim Hoey at the winter meetings.
The Twins' starting shortstop, Tsuyoshi Nishioka -- batting .217/.257/.241 at the time -- sat on the bench and watched that night.
Hardy finished the year with a career-high 30 home runs, and his .343 weighted on-base average (wOBA) ranked third among AL shortstops.
Earlier this week, the former Twins shortstop had some interesting things to say about his new approach in Baltimore, and how it differs from what the Twins apparently wanted him to do in 2010.
"My first round of BP with the Twins, I was trying to (pull the ball), and Rod Carew and those guys call me over and say, `That's not we want. We want line drives the other way,"' Hardy told the Associated Press earlier this week. "So that was my approach for the Twins."
The Orioles' insistence on Hardy pulling the ball "just changed my approach," he said. "When I'd roll over a ball because I tried to drive it, (Orioles coaches) said, `Good, good. That's all right. That's going to happen.' ... If I rolled over a ball with the Twins, it was like, `Stay through it. Got to go the other way."'
In numerous discussions with reporters during the season in 2010, Hardy mentioned his wrist injury and Target Field's spacious dimensions as reasons for his decreased power numbers. Prior to that Aug. 22 game in Minnesota, Hardy elaborated on his wrist issues and explained that the Orioles training staff treated it for good during spring training in 2011.
Hardy rarely -- if ever -- mentioned anything about his approach at the plate being a problem during his time with the Twins, until this week.
On Friday, Twins hitting coach Joe Vavra explained the Twins' side of the story.
"When J.J. came from Milwaukee, he really had a lack of confidence after getting sent back down to the minor leagues," Vavra said. "So what we were trying to do is get some balance back in his swing. We definitely tried to get him to use that pull side, but I think he hit some balls in our ballpark that didn't go out. ... Plus, he hurt his wrist. ...
"I was pretty happy with him. I think he had to learn a little bit more balance, using (opposite field) to get his pull side back, because he was probably getting out front a little too quickly. ... First it was get his old presence back, because he lost it. He had lost all the confidence. I said, 'We're not going to try to do anything different, we're just going to try to get that confidence back.'"
When Hardy came to Minnesota from Milwaukee three offseasons ago, he was -- by his own admission and the Twins' -- the hitter's version of a rebuilding project. Hardy lost his starting shortstop job to Alcides Escobar near the end of the 2009 season, and the Brewers had him seeing a sports psychologist to help him snap out of what he called "a frickin' downhill spiral."
"I kind of know the truth," Vavra said. "I know what we worked on, and I know what he's good at. I know he's good at covering that plate and getting that top hand out there. But again, there were some balls he hit so good in our ballpark that should have got out that didn't. ...
"Really it was more about getting J.J. back to being J.J. Get his head right, get him comfortable. He typically strides straight or a little bit away, but he was really off. And the only way really to correct that is to try to get more up into the gaps, then get the pull side out."
Hardy's criticism of the Twins, as the Associated Press story points out, is similar to the public perception of the Twins' handling of David Ortiz, who became one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball the year after the Twins released him in 2002.
"Well we begged David to be able to hit the ball to (opposite) field," former Twins manager Tom Kelly said in an interview with 1500 ESPN on Friday. "But you're set up to drive the ball to (opposite) field. ... And then if they leave it inside, or they hang it, and something clicks, (you pull it) -- and that's experience, and that's knowledge, and that's trusting yourself."
Over his entire 15-year career, Ortiz owns a .348 batting average and .571 slugging percentage on balls hit to opposite field. The American League averages in those categories last year were .303 and .422. On balls pulled, Ortiz hits .417 and slugs .907. The American League averages last year on balls pulled were .385 and .713.
Those opposite-field numbers are even better lately, as Ortiz hit .405 with a .716 slugging percentage to left field in 2011, versus .341 and .682 on balls pulled. The Green Monster certainly helps.
It's also worth pointing out Ortiz suffered a broken wrist in 2001, and also underwent surgery to remove bone chips in his right knee in 2002. Injuries played a large role in Ortiz's departure from Minnesota -- even though his numbers as a Twin (.266/.348/.461) looked promising.
The Twins deserve criticism for allowing Hardy and Ortiz to slip away. Both players exploded in their first seasons with new teams.
But their departures are more front office-related mistakes than coaching gaffes.