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Orioles' J.J. Hardy trying to get back to normal after return from fractured foot

Orioles' J.J. Hardy trying to get back to normal after return from fractured foot
J.J. Hardy #2 of the Baltimore Orioles makes the out on Prince Fielder #84 of the Texas Rangers throwing to first base for the double play in the fifth inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on June 20, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Rick Yeatts / Getty Images)

The hard part didn't end when J.J. Hardy got out of his walking boot and began to work off weeks of physical inactivity and baseball rust on his way back from the foot fracture that robbed him of seven weeks this season.

Nearly two weeks into his return, Hardy is still working off the rust and playing through new feelings around his freshly healed foot but doing it playing the most difficult position on the diamond for a surging Orioles club.

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"I think the foot is fine — the bone, anyway," Hardy said. "But yeah, it's getting back into it. I went through kind of that spring training soreness, and I just have little things that probably run a little different, doing things just a little bit different that I'm feeling. But the foot's fine."

The Orioles entered Thursday's series opener against the Seattle Mariners with a 9-2 record since his return, and manager Buck Showalter said Hardy being back has something to do with that.

"Just a real professional," Showalter said. "Calming influence — a kind of tempered emotion toward the right thing. We want everybody to play the game with emotion and what have you, but he's just a real calming influence — not too high, too low."

Hardy fractured his foot when he fouled a pitch off it in the Orioles' May 1 loss to the Chicago White Sox. It's the same bone that teammate Mark Trumbo fractured in 2014, though Trumbo's was a stress fracture. Trumbo is one of several people who Hardy has heard from about both the injury, the recovery and playing once it's behind you.

"If it feels fine, you've just got to trust it," Trumbo said. "There's probably a little bit of uneasiness up until that point when you just realize that it's fine and you get back to normal.

"You do the best you can to strengthen things. Stuff is going to happen. That's the hard part. How long it lasts for? I'm not sure. It might be a while. It's something that sometimes you can still feel on cold days and stuff like that, but I think you've just got to kind of know that the doctors know more than you and if they look at it and say that you're good to go, that's pretty much good enough for us."

When Trumbo had his foot fracture, he heard from Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia about the recovery. Trumbo and Texas Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland have smartened up Hardy on how these few weeks would feel.

"I've heard several things from different people," Hardy said. "Mitch Moreland broke a bone in his foot doing that, and he mentioned, 'Whatever you do, no matter how it feels, try to walk normal. Try to run normal so you're not changing everything you do.' Trumbo was the same thing. His was a little different because his was a stress fracture. I'm trying. I'm trying to do that, but it's not as easy to do as you think."

Since Hardy has returned, he has looked mostly like himself. His gait, never the smoothest, has a bit of a hitch. But he has fielded his position well and stabilized the Orioles' infield in the process. At the plate, Hardy entered Thursday batting .250 (11-for-44) with two doubles and three RBIs since being activated from the disabled list. Some of the hard contact that defined the first month of his season is coming back, and his luck is improving a bit on balls falling in.

He went through a lot of rehabilitation to strengthen the areas around the fracture that were immobilized for a month, but baseball activities use muscles and force motions that are hard to replicate. Even after he came back from a rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie, the major league level proved to have its own set of demands that his foot needed to adjust to.

Hardy is through that process, and by virtue of playing both ends of Saturday's doubleheader and thus every game since he was activated on June 18, is proving that whatever pain remains won't deter him from being a fixture in the Orioles lineup. Showalter said Thursday that they recently spoke about how Hardy didn't need to overdo it to make up for the time he missed. Hardy wants to be in there as often as possible.

"Nobody can predict the future, but I'm trying to get out there and get back into being out there every single day," Hardy said. "Obviously, you go through the same kind of pains that everybody goes through when you're playing every day just to get back into the rhythm of it."

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