Slumping Hardy gets breather

Slumping Hardy gets breather

HOUSTON -- Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy was out of the lineup Sunday as manager Ned Yost sought to spark a sputtering offense.

Craig Counsell started at shortstop as the Brewers looked to avoid an Astros three-game sweep. That was not exceptionally surprising; Yost has tried to get Counsell at least two starts a week to help the veteran stay sharp.

But Yost admitted Sunday morning that the move also had to do with Hardy, who was 1-for-7 in the first two games of the series and hitting .228 this season, mostly in the seven-hole ahead of the Brewers' pitcher.

"He's not doing much," Yost said. "I'm hitting Counsell in there."

The new spot in the batting order (Hardy hit mostly second last season) surely is contributing to Hardy's slump relative to 2007, when he had 15 home runs by the end of May and made the All-Star team. Hardy finished with 26 home runs and 80 RBIs.

Yost insisted this weekend that Hardy's 2007 season was no fluke.

"There was not one fluke home run," Yost deadpanned. "All of them went over the fence."

He added: "He's fine. He'll have 15 or 20 [home runs] before the year is over. I think that's probably his normal number. I think he had a really good home run year last year."

Hardy is not the only slumping Brewer. Right fielder Corey Hart was the only .300 hitter in Sunday's starting lineup, and no one else was hitting better than .281.

Yost downplayed the fact Hardy is hitting in front of the pitcher. In some instances, say with first base open and two outs, he'll either be intentionally walked or pitched around, but those instances are not the norm, according to Yost.

"That's kind of an excuse, I think, that we don't really look at or use," Yost said. "J.J. is a very smart hitter, a very intelligent hitter. Granted, yes, there is going to be times when he doesn't get anything to hit ... [but] not enough to determine whether he hits 10 or 20 home runs."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.