SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — There’s a word to describe the way J.J. Hardy plays shortstop.
It isn’t “flashy” or “colorful.”
“His nickname here is Textbook,” said Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who appreciates Hardy’s defense far more than the bat that last year produced 25 home runs and earned the 31-year-old a Silver Slugger Award.
Hardy doesn’t often make the plays that show up on the nightly highlight show. That’s not his style. But if the Orioles are lined up at double-play depth and Hardy gets his hands on a grounder, Baltimore will get those two outs quicker than you can say 6-4-3.
He’s all about substance.
“I’ve never been flashy,” Hardy said. “I feel like if I make an error trying to be flashy, I’m about as embarrassed as I can possibly be.”
It doesn’t happen often. Hardy earned a second straight Gold Glove Award last season after ranking first among shortstops in double plays, second in assists and third in putouts. Over the past two years he’s made only 18 errors in 1,424 chances.
The last Orioles shortstop to win two consecutive Gold Glove Awards was Cal Ripken Jr. (1991-92). Ripken, a no-nonsense fielder, appreciates the way Hardy plays the position.
“He does it without a lot of fanfare,” Ripken said. “He does it consistently. He makes all of the plays and is in the right spot all the time. And it doesn’t going to go unnoticed to me.”
Showalter can’t help but notice, too.
“If you’re not talking about it, you’re not watching. But I think a lot of people don’t talk about it because he’s not flashy,” the manager said. “He doesn’t need to draw attention to himself by making something look harder than it is.”
It’s a lesson that is not wasted on Manny Machado, the Orioles’ 21-year-old third baseman. Machado was drafted as a shortstop, but he’s learned plenty about the position by working alongside Hardy over the past two seasons.
“I don’t think there’s anybody better out there,” Machado said. “Some of my success is because of my talent, but mentally he helped me out a lot, seeing how he goes about his business and seeing how he gets prepared for games. This game is all about routine, and to learn from a guy like that, it’s something I’ll always remember. It will always be a part of my game.”
Hardy makes an error about as infrequently as a sports writer turns down a free meal. When it does happen, it’s a shock.
“When he kicks a ball,” Showalter said, “everybody just goes, `What happened?”‘
Everyone makes mistakes. Hardy, a two-time All-Star, does so less often than most.
“I have to remind myself that errors are part of the game because it bothers me. I still get really upset,” he said. “It’s a pride thing. I don’t think I’ll ever be OK with making an error.”
OK, it’s obvious Hardy cares about how he performs with the glove. But what about his bat? He’s hit 30, 22 and 25 home runs over his last three seasons and totaled 224 RBIs over that span.
“Defense is something I take a lot of pride in only because defense got me to the big leagues,” Hardy said. “In `05 I wasn’t much of a hitter, but they said if you can catch the ball and throw the ball, you’ll play for us in the big leagues. That’s what I did, and then I started to develop a little bit more, got a little bit stronger. I always take a lot of pride in defense, but it’s about the same when it comes to offense.”
After breaking into the big leagues with Milwaukee in 2005, Hardy played five seasons with the Brewers before being dealt to Minnesota in 2009. He was traded to the Orioles a year later, and has found a home in Baltimore.
The three-year extension he signed in 2011 will expire after this season. Hardy wants to stay, and it’s clear that the Orioles don’t want to lose a shortstop with a steady glove and a potent bat.
“We’re really happy with the work he’s done and we’re going to try to get a long-term agreement with him,” executive vice president Dan Duquette said this week.
Hardy is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“There has been not much talk at all,” he said. “I don’t know what they’re thinking. Really, the ball is in their court if they want me. They know I like it here.”
If he is to stay, it will be as a shortstop. The Orioles moved Ripken to third base during the latter part of his career, and Hardy is not ready for that kind of switch.
“If there are any intentions at all of signing me to a long-term deal and wanting Manny to move over to short I would definitely want to know that before,” Hardy said. “Because, yeah, I still feel like I can play shortstop and that is what I want to do.”
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)