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Hardy ready to regroup in Minors

Hardy ready to regroup in Minors

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MILWAUKEE -- While the Brewers' shortstop of the future made his way to Miller Park, the shortstop of the present was looking forward to a few days away from baseball.

J.J. Hardy received the surprising news Wednesday morning that he had been optioned to Triple-A Nashville in a move that could have some serious implications for his future bottom line. The more immediate concern was top prospect Alcides Escobar, who replaced Hardy on the active roster and was expected to make his first Major League start on Thursday. He was inserted as a pinch-runner in the ninth inning on Wednesday in the Brewers' 6-5 loss to the Padres.

The Triple-A Sounds are in Salt Lake City this week, so Hardy has until Friday to join his new team back home in Nashville.

"I think these next couple of days are going to be really nice," Hardy said Wednesday morning. "I'll go down there and do what I'm supposed to do, but I'm pretty excited about getting three days to rest."

Hardy was not the only Brewer on the way out. General manager Doug Melvin also dismissed pitching coach Bill Castro and designated infielder/outfielder Bill Hall for assignment. Outfielder Jason Bourgeois took Hall's roster spot.

As for Hardy, who was hitting .229 this season, Melvin added, "He's still young enough to bounce back. That's what the Minor Leagues are for, to go down there, relax and perform with less pressure. You get back in the right frame of mind, feeling good about yourself."

Hardy will not be feeling very good if he loses a year of free agency because of the demotion. According to Articles 19e and 21b of Major League Baseball's Basic Agreement, "If a player is optionally assigned for a total of less than 20 days in one championship season, the player shall be credited with Major League service during the period of such optional assignment(s)."

In other words, if Hardy stays 19 days or less in Nashville, it will be as if he never left and he will remain on track to have accrued the six years of service necessary to qualify for free agency after the 2010 season. But if the Brewers don't call him back before Sept. 1, when big league rosters expand from 25 to 40, he would lose those days of service.

In that scenario, Hardy would be stuck with one extra year of arbitration eligibility and would not cash in on the open market until following the 2011 season. That would dramatically increase his value to the Brewers, who could more effectively shop Hardy in a trade if club officials are content with Escobar at shortstop.

"We're aware of it, obviously," said Hardy's agent, Mike Seal. "We hope that's not their intention."

Seal had a conversation with Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash, the team's in-house expert on rules and transactions. Both Ash and Melvin insisted Wednesday that the decision had nothing to do with finances.

"What you're describing is an unintended byproduct of this," Ash said. "The driving factor is performance."

Hardy's performance has been admittedly below expectations. He was a National League All-Star in 2007 and followed up by batting a career-high .283 in 2008, but has slumped through most of a disappointing 2009 season. Hardy carried a sub-.200 batting average into May and was at .207 on June 15 before going on a relative hot streak. He batted .340 the rest of June, but since July 1 his average has been .220.

Overall, Hardy is batting .229 this season with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs. That wasn't enough to hold off Escobar, who was batting .298 with 42 stolen bases at Nashville.

Was Hardy surprised by the move?

"I don't know -- I've kind of been feeling it," Hardy said. "I've been feeling like all of the coaches have been staring at me and watching everything I do. It's been uncomfortable. But it still surprises me a little bit. I think three days off would have been all I needed, and I've been going out there every single day and doing what they've asked me to do."

Hardy conceded that he never approached manager Ken Macha and asked for a break.

"Who am I to tell Macha what the lineup should be and who should be playing?" Hardy said. "They've been putting me out there every day and I've been trying my hardest. It's not like I haven't been trying. I like to think of it as the equivalent of a golfer who is a five- or six-handicap and they're going out there for four straight months shooting in the 100s and they can't figure it out.

"I think a golfer, after that, would take a week off and then come back and shoot in the 70s again. In baseball, you can't do that."

Hall stopped by Miller Park on Wednesday afternoon and was downright chipper when he addressed reporters. The Brewers have 10 days to trade Hall or release him and pay the approximately $10 million left on his contract.

"This game isn't going to break me down for the rest of my life," Hall said. "It's not like I'm getting released when I'm at the end of my career when I feel like I can still play. I'm 29 years old and in the prime of my career. I'm going home to Arizona for a couple days -- probably won't be there very long from the looks and the sounds of things -- and it's not the last time you'll see Bill Hall."

Melvin said he has fielded several calls from teams potentially interested in Hall, but the player's contract figures to be a sticking point. Hall is earning $6.8 million this season and is due $8.4 million in 2010. He'll also get a $500,000 buyout for 2011, unless a team is willing to exercise Hall's $9.25 million club option. "I'm happy about the time I spent here," Hall said. "[Last season was the first time in] 26 years we made the playoffs here, so I had a lot of good times and I appreciate everything this organization has done for me and I think it's time a new chapter in my life."

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

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