Hall ready to return to 2006 form
Brewers third baseman seeing the ball better after Lasik eye surgery
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Bill Hall arrived at Tucson Electric Park on Wednesday with good health and a positive outlook for 2009 with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Too bad he didn't have his game jersey.
Well, at least he thought he didn't. Hall, the veteran Brewers third baseman who wears uniform No. 2, sauntered out onto the field for stretching and batting practice with a very Minor League, nameless No. 91 shirt.
He cracked up his teammates and even had his picture taken before clubhouse assistants Alex Sanchez -- no relation to the former Brewers player of the same name -- and Jason Shawger presented him with the gamer that had been hanging in his locker all along.
Fortunately, he's nowhere near as confused about his job, with a now-healthy left calf, more confidence at the plate as a result of offseason Lasik eye surgery and a more agile frame after a drop of 15 pounds.
Hall, who's looking for an offensive return to the breakout 35-homer form of 2006, played Wednesday in his fourth game since returning from a slight tear in the calf that kept him out of the entire Cactus League slate.
He started at third and hit cleanup against the Arizona Diamondbacks, going 1-for-3 with a double. Hall also was slated to play Thursday at home against Cleveland.
Meanwhile, Mike Rivera, the backup catcher who hit .306 in 21 games last year, came back Wednesday for his first start after straining his right hamstring in baserunning drills March 5. He caught five no-hit innings from starter Yovani Gallardo and hit fifth, going 0-for-3 with a hard-hit groundout to D-backs pitcher Doug Davis in his first at-bat.
For Hall, the mended calf means he can once again concentrate on improving his hitting against right-handed pitching.
Hall, who also batted .270 and drove in 85 runs in his hallmark '06 campaign, fell to a career-low .225 overall average last year and hit .174 against righties.
He said he's seeing the ball better and for longer in at-bats because of the eye surgery that let him get rid of troublesome contact lenses. Hall realizes how important a personal resurgence at the plate can be for this club.
"I know how good we can be," Hall said. "This lineup is loaded, and if I'm contributing the kind of production I gave in 2006, we can be an unstoppable team."
Brewers manager Ken Macha said it's all about plate discipline for Hall, who showed a glimpse of what he's capable of against right-handers when he took Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija deep at Maryvale Baseball Park on Sunday.
"You saw what he can do right there," Macha said. "He got into a hitting count, got a fastball and absolutely crushed it. He needs to have that approach early in counts, where if they're bouncing breaking balls, he has to be patient.
"If they're doing that and he's swinging, he'll get into pitching counts. That makes it tough. But that's not an unusual thing. Tons of hitters get into those habits."
Hall, whose double Wednesday came against right-hander Leo Rosales, said eye allergies had forced his contacts to move around while he was in the batter's box, and the results were annoying to say the least.
"We already don't have a lot of time to react to pitches," Hall said. "So when you're struggling to see the ball, you're not as relaxed up there as you should be. Now I'm a lot more relaxed."
So is Rivera, who has been eager to get back into game action but said he isn't worried about the time he's missed.
"We still have two and a half weeks before Opening Day," Rivera said. "It's bad that it happened, but it's good that it happened early in camp."
Like Hall, Rivera said he's optimistic that the Brewers can be playoff contenders again even though the roster looks different with the loss of CC Sabathia and the addition of closer Trevor Hoffman.
"There have been a few changes in our staff, but the whole lineup is the same," Rivera said.
"When we're all healthy, we're going to score a lot of runs," he added. "Our pitching is a little young, but they've got great arms and a lot of confidence."
Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.