Hardy is brewing up a storm in Milwaukee

Although coming into this season J.J. Hardy’s career statistics were pedestrian at best — .246 average, 14 homers, 64 RBIs — if one peered closer at the numbers, it was clear Milwaukee’s 24-year-old shortstop had plenty to offer.

In his only extensive playing time not marred by injuries, Hardy displayed a clear potential to be one of the best shortstops in the National League, offensively and defensively.

Over the latter stages of his rookie year in 2005, he hit .308 over 185 at-bats after the All-Star break, with eight home runs and 31 RBIs — good for a shortstop-gaudy .866 OPS.

After struggling through injuries for most of 2006, Hardy is back this season and has seized upon the potential he first showed in the second half of 2005.

Although he had a 19-game hitting streak end Wednesday, Hardy is batting .331, which is 10th in the National League and tops among the NL Central-leading Brewers.

From May 1 to Tuesday, Hardy went 17-for-32 (.531) with four doubles, three home runs and 10 RBIs. Perhaps the most impressive statistic out of that streak is Milwaukee’s seven wins in eight games.

Forming the nucleus of the young Brewers infield with Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks, Hardy has matured into a versatile hitter who can hit for both power and average. His 27 RBIs lead all major-league shortstops and his nine home runs are tied with Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins for most at his position.

His on-base percentage (.384) is solid — although he could work on his walk-to-strikeout ratio of 12-to-19. But for a third-year pro who entered the year without a full season under his belt, Hardy is clearly ahead of the learning curve.

Fantasy owners who took a gamble on Hardy entering the season are reaping the benefits.

He was ranked as the 27th-best shortstop by ESPN coming into 2007, but his numbers stack up with all those in front of him (including the top-ranked Jose Reyes, perennial All-Star Derek Jeter and hot starter Rollins).

WHO’S HOT?

» Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants

» Andy LaRoche, 3B, Dodgers

» Alex Gonzalez, SS, Reds

» Ryan Doumit, C-OF, Pirates

» Bengie Molina, C, Giants

WHO’S NOT?

» Joel Zumaya, RP, Tigers

» Oliver Perez, SP, Mets

» Corey Patterson, CF, Orioles

» J.D. Drew, RF, Red Sox

» Felipe Lopez, SS, Nationals

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