Hoiles aims to be in front behind the plate for Orioles

January 31, 1991|By Kent Baker

Opportunity has come knocking for Chris Hoiles.

Despite the invitation to veteran catcher Ernie Whitt to attend spring training with the Baltimore Orioles, Hoiles has stepped up in the line for playing time next season, and he said recently, "My main goal is to get the starting job.

"It's sad to see a guy like Mickey [Tettleton] leave. He took a lot of time out for me when I needed it. But, by the same token, this is my chance, and I'm glad he's gone."

The Orioles traded Tettleton to the Detroit Tigers this month for pitcher Jeff Robinson, leaving Bob Melvin and Hoiles as the leading candidates for the regular job.

Then, for some insurance behind the plate and in left-handed hitting, they decided to look at Whitt, who is 38 and coming off a poor, injury-ridden season.

"If they keep him, that's great, as long as I'm there, too," said Hoiles. "He could work in situations where they couldn't use Bob and me. The responsibility is totally different.

"It doesn't surprise me because of what happened to my shoulder last year. I can't blame them for going out and adding a little security. But I'm still going to go about things the same way, do the best I can."

Is Hoiles, 25, ready for extensive duty?

The main question revolves around his throwing arm, but the Orioles seem to consider that a glitch, not a major drawback.

"His arm is not as strong as you'd like to have a catcher's," said manager Frank Robinson. "But you can overcome that if you get rid of the ball quickly."

"We didn't see much of him behind the plate, but, in the short term, he caught a smart game," coach Elrod Hendricks said. "It was refreshing. But he never has had a strong arm."

Health is not the issue. His right shoulder was hurt Sept. 23 as he tried to throw out the Milwaukee Brewers' Paul Molitor at second base, but no surgery was required, and rest and exercises have rectified that problem.

And his bat is one reason the Orioles felt comfortable trading the switch-hitting Tettleton.

Hoiles hit .348 in 74 games with the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings last season and flashed signs of carrying that success to the majors in three different stops with the Orioles.

"We wouldn't have made the deal if we hadn't been comfortable with the catching," said Robinson. "We think we will get as much production, or maybe a little bit more, than we got from Mickey."

Robinson said it won't necessarily be a platoon situation. "We'll go to spring training and let them play and see who should start."

Jeff Tackett, a strong defensive catcher, also is available if injuries or poor performances occur.

Hoiles has not been exclusively a catcher during his amateur and professional career. He has played extensively at first base and designated hitter.

When Hoiles returned to Rochester last season, Tackett did a lot of the catching because the Red Wings were winning and en route to the Triple-A Classic.

"The best thing he did was go to winter ball last year and catch," said Hendricks. "He hasn't had a lot of experience back there, but he'll come around."

"I was out of sync catching last year," said Hoiles, rated the seventh-best International League prospect by Baseball America in 1990. "It was up and down, and Tack was doing a good job when I was down.

The second time I went back, I thought I could stay here and help, but I wasn't going to play, so I'm glad I went back and helped win the playoffs."

He said he doesn't want to play first base -- which is heavily populated with the acquisition of Glenn Davis -- but will if necessary.

"I'm just going out and try to continue what I started last year, make the club and go from there," he said. "I'm going to work twice as hard now. I understand I've got a lot to learn about catching."

Hoiles said he is taking nothing for granted.

"I know things sound pretty convincing for me right now," he said. "But you never really know. I've had to work for everything I've gotten. There's certainly no sense stopping now that I'm almost there."

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