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Hall hitting the ball, playing all over the place

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / June 10, 2010

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CLEVELAND — Bill Hall was not in the starting lineup for the Red Sox last night, which was a bit unusual. With Jacoby Ellsbury on the disabled list and Mike Cameron and Jeremy Hermida dealing with injuries, Hall has been in the outfield nearly every day.

The increase in playing time had coincided with better production. In the previous 10 games in which he appeared, Hall was 12 for 31 with six extra-base hits, eight RBIs, and 11 runs.

The hot streak raised his batting average to .250 and gave him an OPS of .813.

“He’s gotten some timing and he’s gotten some confidence because he’s gotten some at-bats. He’s been pretty productive,’’ manager Terry Francona said before last night’s game against the Indians.

Hall was asked when he recalled feeling so comfortable at the plate. He paused for a second, giving the question some thought.

“It was 2006,’’ he said, “that long ago. I haven’t swung the bat like this in a long, long time. This is the type of hitter I’m supposed to be. It seems to be getting better and better every day, too.’’

Hall hit 35 home runs for Milwaukee in 2006 and was rewarded with a four-year, $24 million back-loaded extension before the start of the next season.

But he hit .229 with a .291 on-base percentage over the three seasons that followed. The Brewers gave up on him last August, trading Hall to Seattle. Hall hit .200 for the Mariners, and was dealt to the Red Sox in January for Casey Kotchman.

Hall suffered what then was called a high ankle sprain July 5, 2007, trying to make a leaping catch in the outfield for Milwaukee. The reality was he tore two ligaments in his right ankle.

“I was supposed to be out six weeks,’’ he said. “I came back in three because we were in a pennant race and I wanted to be in there.’’

Hall hit only .226 the remainder of the season with five home runs. The injury, he explained, did not let him solidly plant his back foot in the batter’s box.

“I was basically swinging with my upper body,’’ he said. “I couldn’t generate any power with my swing. I just fell into a lot of bad habits. The ankle changed everything.’’

The slump coincided with Hall feeling the pressure to live up to his new contract.

“It was tough and I probably didn’t handle it as well as I should have,’’ he said. “I spent a lot of time trying to make up for what I hadn’t done statistically. After a while, it started getting worse and worse. I was trying to do things I wasn’t capable of doing.

“This is the first time in a few years where I don’t feel like I’m trying to catch up.’’

Hall is in the final year of his contract and is being paid $8.4 million. The Brewers are paying all but $1.3 million of it.

For at Red Sox, at least, Hall is both valuable and economical. This season, he has played all three outfield positions, second base, shortstop, and even pitched an inning.

“He’s valuable anyway because he can go to the infield and he’s a guy who has been put in center field. That gives him a lot of extra value,’’ Francona said. “The fact that he’s got more playing time and he’s swung the bat better, that’s been [good].

“It’s still valuable that he can play a position. But when he starts hitting the ball off the wall like he’s been, that’s certainly an added bonus.’’

Whether he is in the lineup or not, Hall feels like the player he once was. It took three seasons, but he finally recaptured it.

“This was a new start for me,’’ Hall said. “I didn’t come here with a lot of expectations. But I feel at home here, like I have a place on this team. It’s fun playing for a contender again.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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