PHOENIX (AP) -Bill Hall is back in the Milwaukee Brewers' infield at third base. J.J. Hardy says it's almost like he never left.
``Billy was so good before he left the infield that he's picked it up already,'' the All-Star shortstop said. ``It's not even that difficult for him. He makes the plays, he's got really good range.''
Hall's one-year experiment in center field ended in disappointment and exposed multiple defensive deficiencies in last year's team that went 83-79 and finished two games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs in the NL Central.
While new third baseman Ryan Braun hit his way to the NL Rookie of the Year award with a .324 average, 34 homers and 97 RBIs, he committed a major league-leading 26 errors in 112 starts at third base. With the departure of Geoff Jenkins, the Brewers moved Braun to left field, where he's looking much more comfortable this spring.
``It's no doubt. He'd have been a very, very, very good third baseman, but we just don't have the time right now,'' manager Ned Yost said. ``We've improved our defense and he's a big part of improving our defense.''
The Brewers began shopping for a new third baseman, but general manager Doug Melvin decided to sign three-time Gold Glove center fielder Mike Cameron. That meant Hall had to come back to third base after he committed nine errors in center, second only to Phillies left fielder Pat Burrell among outfielders.
``It was tougher for us to ask Billy to go back and play third base than it was to ask Ryan to go play left field, because we've asked Billy to move a couple of times,'' Melvin said.
Instead, Hall, who has also played 261 games at shortstop and 95 games at second base in his six-year career, sees the switch as a win-win proposition.
``I've been in the infield my whole life outside of one year, which was last year, so it's an easy adjustment going back to the infield,'' Hall said. ``Once you know how to field groundballs it's kind of like riding a bike, you never really forget, it just takes a little while to get back on, get comfortable.''
Hardy said he can already react to Hall's decisions on sharp grounders, including one Hall let pass even though he bragged he could've gotten to it. Instead, Hall knew Hardy would have an easier throw to first.
``Just knowing one another has helped us out,'' Hardy said. ``It's nice to be able to stay loose and have fun. I think you play better when you're doing that.''
Hall also likes the new configuration of the defense, which also includes catcher Jason Kendall.
``It made our team better defensively,'' Hall said. ``We've got a three-time Gold Glover in center field now, and Braun's doing great in left, looking great, and I'll be at third. It just makes our defense that much better because I don't think hitting is going to be a problem for us.''
But Hall, who signed a four-year, $24 million contract before last season, is looking for big improvements at the plate, too.
A year removed from 35 home runs and two years removed from 17 and a .291 batting average, Hall slumped to a .254 average with 14 homers last season. He struck out three times more than he walked.
Hall said he was pressing badly.
``I just got off track,'' he said. ``My swing got off track, I got off to a slow start trying to do what I had done the year before and I put a lot of pressure on myself.''
He said he couldn't relax once he got into a funk.
``I tried harder and tried to do too much. I messed with my swing a little bit, but I fixed it in the offseason and I'm back to where I need to be,'' Hall said. ``I think I have the best swing I've ever had in my life right now.''
He'll bat somewhere after Prince Fielder, who hit an NL-best 50 homers last year, and Braun in the order. But Hall could complete a dangerous part of the lineup as the third power hitter if he can lower his strikeout rate.
Melvin said the organization would be thrilled if Hall consistently hit 25 home runs a year.
Hall has bigger ideas.
``I think I can hit more than 35,'' he said.
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