Brewers break out bats in finale

Brewers break out bats in finale

CINCINNATI -- With all the ways manager Ned Yost has tried to manufacture runs, the Brewers' offense finally took matters into its own hands.

And of all people, J.J. Hardy -- who was hitting just .187 at the All-Star break -- was at the core of it.

Hardy hit the first grand slam of his career Wednesday afternoon as part of a five-homer, 17-hit barrage that helped the Brewers drub the Reds, 14-5, in front of 15,886 at Great American Ball Park.

To make Hardy's bases-loaded home run even more impressive, it was to opposite field, something he said he'd never done before.

"I had two strikes on me," Hardy said. "I was just trying to stay short and put the ball in play. And that's what happened. But, yeah, we've been joking around lately. Some of the guys on the team are telling me that I don't have any [opposite-field] pop. And so I've been trying to do it in batting practice, and I can't do it.

"But I think that's my first opposite-field home run in professional baseball."

Hardy's grand slam wasn't his only offensive contribution on the day, though.

Hardy picked up hits four of his first five times at the plate, pacing a Brewers offense that couldn't be caught.

Brady Clark, Chad Moeller and Geoff Jenkins all hit solo homers, while Lyle Overbay hit a three-run shot to provide the Brewers with much of their offense.

But in the sixth inning, Hardy outdid them all.

With one out in the inning, Wes Helms, Moeller and Chris Capuano all walked. Helms was thrown out on a baserunning error before Clark singled to load the bases for Hardy.

And the 23-year-old Hardy made sure to put the game away, taking a Chris Booker fastball over the right-field fence.

"It's just one of those things that you're seeing the ball well," Hardy said. "You can't really explain it. You're finding holes, and everything goes your way."

Of late, nearly everything has been going Hardy's way.

Coming off shoulder surgery last season, Hardy's climb back to success has been a long one.

His shoulder limited his ability to use half the field, and because of it, Hardy was designated to play winter ball this offseason in Arizona.

But Hardy has found his swing since then, raising his average 39 points to .226.

His power has also increased, and Hardy looks like the player the team knew he could be when healthy.

"It wasn't anything that we didn't expect," Yost said. "We said all along that we felt like he would struggle a little bit in the first half and take off in the second. And we thought in Spring Training that would probably be the trend. After sitting out a whole year last year, it was going to be a rough first half. The second half, he had to get comfortable and take off."

Hardy has awakened. But it's a transition he'd rather not have to make again.

"That was definitely the hardest struggle that I'd ever gone through," Hardy said. "I didn't think that missing last year with the shoulder surgery would affect me the way that it did. But, finally, I think that's in the past, and I'm starting to swing the bat like I can and feel a lot more comfortable."

The beneficiary of all this, of course, is the pitching staff. Don't think Capuano doesn't know it.

"Today, it was like a barrage," Capuano said.

The right-hander forged his way through 6 2/3 innings, giving up five runs on nine hits, two of those hits home runs to Austin Kearns and Ryan Freel.

The Freel homer all but ended Capuano's afternoon and was really the only big mistake he made in the game.

"It was a tough game to pitch in the sense that there were some long waits in there," Capuano said.

"I'll take the run support, believe me. But [Freel's home run] is one thing that's going to eat at me. It's really bugging me."

Capuano said that's because he felt he let his guard down mentally with the big lead.

But he isn't really complaining. Instead, he's just happy to see the offense -- and especially his teammate Hardy -- come around.

Kyle Jepson is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.