Struggling Hall sent down to Triple-A
Bench player accepts assignment despite 'mixed emotions'
MILWAUKEE -- Bill Hall wasn't getting any better sitting on the Brewers bench, so on Thursday, he headed out for the Minor Leagues.The Brewers optioned Hall to Triple-A Nashville, and he will report Friday for at least 10 days of regular play, an opportunity to work on his swing that he wasn't getting in the big leagues. Infielder Hernan Iribarren will replace Hall on the active roster on Friday in San Diego. While insisting that his swing was good and that his batting practice sessions over the past three weeks have been "some of the best of my career," Hall prepared to play at Triple-A for the first time in six years. "It's just something I needed to do," said Hall, who is hitting .201 this season. "There's mixed emotions. It kind of still feels like a demotion, but sometimes you have to take a step back before you can go forward." Since he has more than five years of Major League service, Hall owned the right to refuse the assignment, and that's just what he did at first. Hall was asked to go down to the Minors in a July 11 meeting with general manager Doug Melvin, assistant GM Gord Ash and manager Ken Macha -- contrary to what he told MLB.com that afternoon -- but he refused. Things changed, Hall said, when the Brewers acquired second baseman Felipe Lopez in a trade with the D-backs eight days later. That move further cut Hall's playing time. Hall has only eight plate appearances in the 10 games since Lopez debuted. "This time, it was my decision," Hall said. "It's all on my terms. When I feel like I've had enough, that I'm swinging the bat well and seeing pitches again," he will return. Hall expects to play a number of infield positions for Nashville and possibly the outfield, too. He said his plan was to return to the Brewers when they begin a series in Houston on Aug. 7, but the rules stipulate that an optioned player must remain in the Minors for at least 10 days, unless he replaces an injured big leaguer. Ash confirmed that rule on Thursday evening. "Who knows what the situation is going to be when I come back?" said Hall. "It could be the same thing, but at least I'll have gotten some at-bats." Said Macha: "I think it's a positive thing for him to go down there and get his at-bats and see where he is. He'll probably be back when we get back from this road trip." Hall conferred with Brewers outfielder Mike Cameron, among others, before making his decision. "The only thing I told him is, 'Do what you think is good for yourself, but don't give up your rights,'" Cameron said. "If he feels this is the right thing, if everybody is on the same page, then I don't think it's going to be a problem." Once considered a building block of the Brewers' future, Hall has instead become an expensive and seldom-used bench player. He is batting .201 in 71 games with five home runs and 20 RBIs and has started only three games this month while drawing on a $6.8 million salary. He's set to earn $8.4 million next year as part of the four-year, $24 million contract he signed in February 2007. At that time, Hall was coming off a 35-homer season in which he filled in admirably for an injured J.J. Hardy at shortstop and won club MVP honors. But his production dropped dramatically the following season after he agreed to move to center field, and he hasn't recovered. He hit .254 in 2007 with 14 homers, 63 RBIs and 128 strikeouts while playing much of the second half with pain from a midseason ankle injury. In 2008, he moved back to the infield, but couldn't pin down everyday duty at third base and batted .225 with 15 homers, 55 RBIs and 124 strikeouts. At one point, Hall asked for a trade. Still, Hall reported to Spring Training in February with a new manager (Macha) who said he wanted Hall to be the everyday third baseman. Hall started 19 of the team's 22 games in April and batted .304, but his May average dropped to .136 as he started 17 of 28 games. In June, he started only 11 times in 27 games. Hall's troubles have been exacerbated by a .180 batting average against right-handed pitchers. "My swing is good," he insisted on Thursday while the rest of the Brewers packed for San Diego. "I just need some repetitions, I guess. I've changed some things, gotten back to being the old me. My BP for the last three weeks has been some of the best of my career." Hall is aware that his Triple-A time will also provide an opportunity to play for opposing scouts from teams viewing him as a change-of-scenery candidate. The non-waiver Trade Deadline is Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. CT, but given Hall's contract, he would almost certainly be able to clear waivers ahead of an August trade. "I've heard there were inquiries about me, but those teams were worried about me not being able to play," Hall said. "Hopefully, I can go down there and show what I could bring to their team, or bring it back to this team. "I wouldn't say that this one experience has been a humbling one, because I've been humbled for a while now," he added. "I'm taking a step back, and hopefully I'll come back even better than I was."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.