A day after the Orioles acquired Tim Beckham to fill their short- and long-term shortstop needs right at the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, manager Buck Showalter relayed that he'd assured his incumbent starter, J.J. Hardy, that "he's playing shortstop" once his fractured wrist healed.
Much has changed since then, including Showalter's own recollection of those remarks, as on Friday he challenged the notion he'd made them.
But the most significant change, if not the most inevitable one, was solidified Friday at Progressive Field, when Hardy was activated from the 60-day disabled list and Beckham remained in the starting lineup, batting leadoff and playing Hardy's position of shortstop.
As much as Hardy wants to play, he essentially endorsed the idea himself.
"Amazing," Hardy said of Beckham. "Absolutely amazing. We've played against him for the last few years and I've seen a lot of improvements, just playing against him, and for him to get the opportunity to play every day at shortstop — what he's done is pretty impressive."
When the trade was first made, the Orioles were nearly seven weeks into life without Hardy after his fractured wrist and were desperate to upgrade on Rubén Tejada. At that point, however, Hardy's return was thought to be around Aug. 18, when he'd be eligible to return from the 60-day DL.
But Hardy's period of inactivity meant his comeback took time, with the need to build his shoulder back up and then later an elbow problem popping up from him swinging so often. As he worked his way back, the 27-year-old Beckham became a force atop the Orioles lineup. He entered Friday batting .359/.391/.588 with seven home runs in 35 games since the trade. While his defense hasn't matched Hardy's, the offense has kept him in the lineup. Hardy was hitting .211 with a .556 OPS when he broke his wrist.
Upon his activation Friday, Hardy said he hadn't heard much from Showalter about his immediate plans. Showalter said while Hardy, 35, was rehabilitating at Triple-A Norfolk last month, they discussed a path back for him and there was mention that the starting shortstop job he has owned and thrived in since 2011 wasn't waiting for him anymore.
"We've already talked about it," Showalter said. "We talked about it when we were talking about activating him and what he had to do, and having the conversation we had with him down in Norfolk on what he could do and what he couldn't do. There's a lot of things that I know that we're not going to broadcast for the other team, but we've got a real solid role that he can help us with the rest of the way."
Given Hardy's steady glove and Beckham's eight errors in his first 35 games as an Oriole, that could be as a defensive replacement to keep Hardy involved in the game — and that’s something he's prepared to do.
"I'm just going to prepare myself and be ready for whatever he wants me to do," Hardy said. “[A bench role] will be new to me, but like I said, I'll be ready to do whatever I can to help."
Most importantly to him is that he's physically capable again.
"It feels good," Hardy said. “It definitely has been a long road — a little bit longer than I expected. But it does feel good to be back."
That Hardy is so willing to put the betterment of the team above his own desires with just over three weeks remaining in the season is part of why Showalter believes the veteran shortstop is the teammate he is and has had the career he has.
"That's J.J., though, and believe me, there's a real competitive fire that burns in there," Showalter said. "You don't do the things he's done over a long career without having that. He's one of those guys that thinks about the weight his words carry and how it reflects on his teammates. I think that's why he's so well-respected in the game. He knows there's certain things that are bigger than him, and there's not many people here who could take an opposite approach more than J.J. His resume speaks for itself, but it's also why he has that and has always been in demand, because of the way he's carried himself. He's a pro. I wouldn't count him out."