Roland Hemond thinks he stymied Chris Hoiles a year ago. During the weekend he took a step to ensure against that happening again.
Of all those affected by the Orioles' brash moves last week, Hoiles seemingly benefited more than anybody. With Mickey Tettleton traded to Detroit for pitcher Jeff Robinson, the path has been cleared for Hoiles.
He no longer ranks as the third catcher on a team that usually only carries two. Instead, he has the opportunity to win the job outright, or at the very least, share it with Bob Melvin.
Hoiles hit .348 with Triple A Rochester in 1990, a year interrupted by two callups by the Orioles prior to a year-end promotion. Then, after finally getting a chance to play in the big leagues on a regular basis, a shoulder injury shut down Hoiles on Sept. 23. By that time the Orioles apparently had become convinced that he was ready to stay in the big leagues -- after he mostly sat on the bench during his two previous stints with the club.
It was after the first recall that Hemond says he made a mistake. "I felt like I did him an injustice," said the Orioles general manager. "When we brought him up and then didn't play him, I should have sent him back down."
Hoiles was hitting .394 at the time of his first promotion, but played in only 10 games between June 3 and July 5. "I thought I could help then," said Hoiles, "but I'm not going to question anything that went on. They have given me the chance to play here."
He came back from Aug. 12 to Aug. 28, playing in eight more games, but it wasn't until he joined the club in late September that he got his first real opportunity. He went 6-for-11 in five games, before tearing a muscle behind his right shoulder while attempting to throw out Paul Molitor on a steal Sept. 23.
His season was over, but despite his early inactivity he'd had enough time to make an impression. "The biggest thing was getting them to have confidence in me," said Hoiles, 25, who is among those participating in offseason workouts at Memorial Stadium. "I feel I can play here if I get the opportunity to play."
Hemond admits that the trade of Tettleton, 30, was dictated as much by the desire to get Hoiles adequate playing time as anything else. "I felt like the guilty party when I didn't send him back after he came up the first time last year," said Hemond. "It would have bothered me if I had to tell him in spring training, 'Chris, you have to go back,' because we had three catchers.
"The thing I liked last year was that even after he sat so long up here, he went back to Rochester and picked right up where he left off," said Hemond. "Coming along as he has, he deserves to be on the club."
Hoiles is aware of the opportunity, says his shoulder has responded to rest, but realizes he still has to prove he belongs. "I know they're not going to hand me a job," he said. "The trade does help me, there's still a lot to be done. I've got to work hard here and in spring training. There's still a long way to go, and it's not going to be easy. But the big thing is the feeling they have confidence I can help the club win."
The injured shoulder did not require surgery and Hoiles is confident it will give him no trouble. "I started throwing last week, and it feels fine," he said. "It actually feels back to normal."
As part of his rights for rejecting free agency and accepting arbitration, Tettleton had the right to refuse any trade until June 15, but circumstances (plus a mild financial inducement) prompted the switch-hitter to accept the assignment -- and the Tigers' offer of $1.6 million for one year.
"If we had gone through arbitration and Mickey had stayed, his playing time would have been reduced," said Hemond, "and then we'd have had an unhappy player. And if we had held Hoiles back that would have stalled our building process. We're fortunate that we're deep enough to be able to make the trade, and it's good to be able to get a pitcher after we gave up two [Pete Harnisch and Curt Schilling] to get Glenn Davis."
A 6-foot-6 righthander, Robinson, 29, has a curious record that includes a 36-26 won-lost ledger, but a 4.65 lifetime earned run average. He has been hampered by injuries in each of the last three seasons. He was 10-9 (5.96 ERA) last year, when he impressed manager Frank Robinson by taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Orioles July 24. His best year was 1988, when he was 13-6, with a 2.98 ERA and a career-high 172 innings pitched.
Although he's been a starter virtually his entire career and will be considered for that role with the Orioles, Robinson could become a candidate for long relief.