HOUSTON – Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy batted .333 in May and continued his hot hitting with a 2-for-4 afternoon on the first day of June in the Orioles' 9-4 win over the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park.
But while the hits are coming for Hardy -- and he continues to be the glue of the Orioles infield with his stellar defense -- his power has been noticeably absent. Hardy has gone 70 games since his last home run, which came Sept. 6. That’s the longest homerless stretch of his career, far surpassing his previous longest drought of 42 games.
Hardy has averaged 25 homers over the past three seasons and hit 25 last year while winning his first Silver Slugger award.
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But this season Hardy has yet to go yard.
“I've got no explanation,” Hardy said before Sunday’s game. “Yeah, obviously, it crosses my mind, but I try not to think about it as much as I can."
Hardy missed eight games in April with lower back spasms, but he has played well despite being banged up in the past. So he said he doesn’t think the back has anything to do with his drought.
“Ever since the first week of the season when I hurt my back, I've been on a pretty strict back exercise,” Hardy said. “But I feel pretty good physically."
Hardy is hitting .306 on the season -- he has never hit .300 for a season in his career -- and he's batting .393 with runners in scoring position, so he has still managed to be very productive.
Hardy has a history of hitting homers in spurts, so while matching last year’s total seems unlikely, it’s not to say that he can’t break out. On June 1 of last season, he hit two home runs to give him 12 on the season.
He hit nine homers in a monthlong stretch from May 5 to June 4 last season. This year, he hasn’t had the benefit of many home games in May. And everyone knows the ball flies out of Camden Yards as it gets warmer.
"I think the same approach, hits will keep coming,” Hardy said. “Yeah. Honestly, whenever I've hit homers, it's always come in bunches. I don't know. We'll see how it goes. I'm going to continue to try to put good at-bats together and get on base, and hopefully, the homers come."
** I think the best thing the Orioles could take out of Sunday’s win heading into the day off was Manny Machado’s performance. His first career grand slam was crushed 404 feet, and he had hit first four-RBI game since April 20, 2013.
It was also marked the first time Machado has recorded back-to-back multihit games this season. That’s a good sign, because I really think Machado is the key to the Orioles' inconsistent offense getting back on track.
Machado returned to No. 2 in the lineup after three games down in the seventh spot, and there’s no secret that Machado served as a catalyst for the Orioles offense with his strong first half last season hitting in the No. 2 spot.
After Sunday’s game, Machado said he’s starting to feel better, that he’s feeling like he’s getting his legs back under him after offseason knee surgery.
“Not a hundred percent, but I feel much [more] comfortable in there,” Machado said.
** Meanwhile, David Lough would be the first to say that his 2014 season hasn’t turned out the way he wanted or expected. But Lough sparked the offense with his two-run homer Sunday -- his first in an Orioles uniform -- and his three RBIs on the day equaled his previous season total.
After the game, Lough was happy with his day offensively, but he pointed out on his own that he was frustrated by his defense. After moving from left to right when Nelson Cruz left the game, Lough got turned around on a line drive by George Springer that sailed over Lough for a double. Springer scored later that inning.
“Hopefully I can get it going offensively,” Lough said. “Defensively, I wasn’t too thrilled with my play today. I thought I gave up a couple of runs in right field. That’s something I need to work on. A lot more early work to get prepared for right field. I haven’t played there yet this year, and it’s something that you have to keep track of at all times. I’ll get it down.”