Before the season started, many people who follow the Milwaukee Brewers would have expected a player to be among the league leaders in home runs.

Few would have expected that player to be J.J. Hardy.

"I think it's a surprise to everyone because obviously I haven't done it before," Hardy told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "It's new to me. It's new to everyone else."

Hardy has hit 14 home runs in 181 at-bats. That matches his career total of 14 in 500 at-bats in his first two seasons, the second of which was cut short last year in May due to an ankle injury.

Slugging first baseman Prince Fielder is not one of those who is surprised with Hardy's power surge.

"I've always known J.J. had pop," Fielder said. "It's a swing I've seen since early in the Minors. He's a strong dude and he's got a good swing, so he's got a lot of power."

What makes Hardy successful is his ability to hit a pitcher's mistake hard.

"He always goes up there with some kind of a plan, a very simple plan of looking here, looking there. And a lot of times, his plan is right on," hitting coach Jim Skaalen said. "He studies what goes on and he watches these guys. He's been awesome, and I think he'll keep it up barring something unforeseen."

Hardy also leads the league in RBIs. Manager Ned Yost insists he is not surprised by what he has seen from Hardy.

"As good as J.J.'s doing, I'm pretty sure J.J.'s not going to lead the league in homers," Yost said. "But he's going to hit his share."

Rays would welcome Percival: Troy Percival, the former closer for the Angels who missed most of 2005 and all of 2006 with a forearm injury, is attempting a comeback. One team closely watching Percival is Tampa Bay. Joe Maddon, who coached with the Angels when Percival pitched for the team, now manages the Devil Rays.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Percival will work out for two weeks while considering his future options, one of which may be to pitch for the Rays.

"If his arm is well, Percy, first of all, is a very top-end relief pitcher, regardless if he's been out a little bit or not," Maddon told the St. Petersburg Times. "No. 2, Percy's really good in the bullpen because he's a mentor and he really gets involved personally, talking about the game. His preparation is spectacular. ... All the things he does in the clubhouse and the bullpen are kind of extraordinary."

Tampa catcher Josh Paul, who used to play for the Angels, believes Percival would be a good addition to the team.

"He's probably the best leader I've seen as far as pitchers go," Paul said. "He knows the game. Obviously with 300 saves he has a lot of experience with success, and sprinkled in there he's failed, so he knows the difference. I'd love to have him on this club."

Kouzmanoff gets by with help from teammates: On May 7, San Diego third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff was hitting .108. But instead of feeling more and more pressure to perform, all he felt was encouragement by his teammates.

"My teammates were always right there for me," Kouzmanoff told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Manager Bud Black said that in some clubhouses, Kouzmanoff would have been ignored. But that was not the case in San Diego.

"Our veteran players are very much behind helping the younger players," said Black. "They were consistently supportive of Kouz.

"I think the support was helpful, but I don't think it's the major point. The major thing was his keeping his nose to the grindstone when things were difficult."

Aided in part by the support of his teammates, Kouzmanoff never lost confidence and he has finally started to turn things around, entering a stretch of 10 hits in 19 at-bats entering Sunday to raise his average to .186. During the streak, he has five doubles and seven RBIs.

"I kept telling myself to grind through it," Kouzmanoff said yesterday. "I've gone through times like that. Eventually, the ball is going to find a hole. I was hitting the ball hard, but the results weren't there."

Former teammates admire Polanco: Detroit infielder Placido Polanco is once again having a spectacular season, carrying a .331 average into this week after his Tigers swept the St. Louis Cardinals over the weekend.

After St. Louis manager Tony La Russa realized that Polanco, who used to play for La Russa in St. Louis, had never been an All-Star, he misspoke about the opportunity he has to manage the team this year.

"I had a lapse," La Russa told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "I said, 'I'm going to pick him myself.' Then I realized I can't do that."

La Russa has immense respect for his former player.

"There's nobody in baseball more reliable than (Polanco)," said La Russa. "(Detroit manager) Jim (Leyland) and I were talking about that yesterday. Every day when you come to the park, you know exactly what Placido is going to bring to the competition."

St. Louis third base coach Jose Oquendo has always liked Polanco. "He got bigger and stronger. He's always been a guy who made contact. Now he's aggressive and hitting to all fields. Before, he was mostly a right-side hitter.

"He's a smart player. He's always been a good player. Now he's a smart player."

Former teammate Albert Pujols, one of Polanco's best friends, is happy to see his friend succeed.

"He's finally had an opportunity to play every day the last few years. He didn't get the opportunity here. He was a guy who would get 200 or 300 at-bats, so it was awful hard to show what he can do," Pujols said.

Guthrie gets results, if not wins: Baltimore pitcher Jeremy Guthrie was spectacular Saturday against the Washington Nationals in the Orioles 3-2 victory, but despite his effort he did not get a victory.

Guthrie worked seven innings, allowing one run on four hits while striking out 10, but for the second straight outing, he came away empty. Last Sunday, he worked 8 1/3 innings against Boston without giving up a run -- and without getting the win.

With an ERA of just 2.95 in 2007, his manager is hopeful that he can keep this up for a while.

"He's a little bit of an unknown still," manager Sam Perlozzo told the Washington Post. "We just cross our fingers that what we're seeing is the real deal."

In 26 1/3 innings as a starter this year, Guthrie has allowed just three runs -- good for an ERA of 1.03 in that span. "That's the idea -- keep building off of each outing," Guthrie said. "Just continue to pitch well."

"He's certainly establishing himself as a pretty good starter so far," added Perlozzo. "We're certainly hoping that's the case."

Third baseman Melvin Mora enjoys playing on days that Guthrie toes the rubber. "I love this kid," said Mora. "The way he comes every day, he just gives everybody energy. I know he's going to win a lot of games."

Guthrie hopes that's the case.

"I feel really blessed the way things are going," he said. "You go through your struggles, you realize you can't do everything. There's probably some help from above with everything going on right now."

Saarloos won't worry about pitch count: Cincinnati pitcher Kirk Saarloos is scheduled to start Tuesday against Washington despite working solely as a reliever thus far this year for the Reds. The right-hander isn't worried, though, about his pitch count.

"Sometimes you look at the board and see you've thrown 100 pitches and you think it means you should be tired," Saarloos told the Cincinnati Post. "If you don't know how many pitches you've thrown, your mind doesn't know what to do. So I never look there."

With 69 career starts, Saarloos has never been one to worry about how many pitches he's thrown -- including last May in Oakland when he threw 107 pitches for the A's in his first start of the year.

"Like I said to them, don't worry about a pitch count," said Saarloos. "I think it's overrated anyway, especially for someone who doesn't throw that hard.

"Who cares -- if you're effective at 60 pitches or 120, what's the difference? If you feel fine physically and you're not tired, keep going."

His biggest adjustment will be how many different pitches he can use, not how many pitches he makes.

"I'll be able to use all my pitches more," he said. "In the bullpen, you use pitches that you think you can get guys out with and throw strikes with. As a starter, you use a little more of your repertoire and set guys up for later in the game and that sort of thing."

Morris ends thoughts of sweep: The Giants lost their first two games of their interleague matchup with the A's. They salvaged the last game of the series thanks to a complete-game two-hitter by Matt Morris, who led San Francisco to a 4-1 win.

"Matt's been that way for us," manager Bruce Bochy told the San Francisco Chronicle. "We needed a great pitching effort today, and we got it. What a gem."

Morris threw 127 pitches and struck out nine batters. The A's only hit five balls out of the infield all game.

"Matt threw an unbelievable game," catcher Eliezer Alfonzo said. "He didn't make any mistakes."

Said A's shortstop Bobby Crosby: "He'd start you off with his curveball and he'd throw it with two strikes -- he'd really throw it anytime."

Morris is in the middle of a three-year contract. Last year, his first season with the Giants, he went 10-15, and posted the first losing record of his Major League career. Morris found out he was pitching last year with a broken rib.

"Last year was tough," Morris said. "It's hard being yourself when the game is not there for you. This year, to go out there and pitch allows you to be yourself again."

-- Red Line Editorial