J.J. Hardy admitted this spring that his 2012 season was probably the lowest point of his career offensively.
He didn’t make an excuse out of a nagging shoulder injury that gave him sharp pain every time he threw the ball from shortstop to first base, but he struggled to swing his way out of a long slump and his numbers sagged.
Often batting out of the two-hole, Hardy batted .238, the second-lowest average of his career. He had 22 home runs and 68 RBIs, which still ranked fourth and fifth among shortstops, respectively, but represented a decline from his 2011 numbers, when he hit a career-high 30 home runs and tied his career high with 80 RBIs.
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"From a personal standpoint, I feel like  was my worst offensive season given that I was healthy and played as much as I did," Hardy, who set career highs in games played and at-bats, told my colleague, Eduardo A. Encina, back in April. "It was very frustrating. Definitely, it was good defensively and the fact that we were winning was good, so it made it a little bit easier to struggle as much as I did offensively."
After an unproductive spring down in Sarasota, Fla., Hardy started the 2013 regular season slowly. But things picked up for him in early May, and he is batting .373 in June with an OPS of 1.031, providing the Orioles pop in the bottom half of the order.
Hardy has raised his average to .270. But more importantly, his power from 2011 appears to be back. Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies is the only major-league shortstop with more homers and RBIs than Hardy, who has 14 and 43, respectively, putting him on a pace similar to his 2011 numbers. And Hardy is slugging .470, fifth among all shortstops.
After putting 15.7 percent of his fly balls out of the ballpark in 2011, Hardy's HR/FB rate was just 10.0 percent in 2012. This year, it's back up to 14.4 percent, the second-highest rate of his career and nearly three percentage points higher than his 11.5 career average.
Hardy hit his latest home run against Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander on Tuesday night, with Hardy pulling the ball over the left-field fence. It was his third home run off Verlander in June, making him the first player to ever accomplish that feat against the 2011 American League Cy Young winner.
“I couldn't tell you how it happened. I feel like I just kind of blacked out and I'm happy about it,” Hardy joked after Tuesday’s win.
Hardy has every right to be happy, and the Orioles do, too.
We know that Hardy, a 2012 Gold Glove winner, is one of the best defensive shortstops in the major leagues. But he is healthy and back to being one of the game’s best hitters at his position, his disappointing offensive season of 2012 disappearing from his rear-view mirror.