Hoiles proving to be double threat

August 07, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

For Chris Hoiles the maturing process hasn't been easy.

There were three yo-yo trips back and forth to the minor leagues a year ago. He had to try and live down a rap as a poor defensive catcher and get acclimated to the big leagues while spending most of his time on the bench.

Then, with the path to the big leagues finally cleared with the trade of Mickey Tettleton, he spent the first half of this season not doing the one thing everybody figured he could do -- hit. He was throwing out runners who took liberties with his arm, but his average generally was about 15 points below his weight (213).

"In spring training I hit the ball good and had to prove that I could throw and catch," said the soft-spoken Hoiles. "Then the season started and my defense was OK, but I wasn't hitting. Everything was backward."

Which, basically, fit right into the Orioles' program for the first half of the season. Gradually, however, things have changed.

Since the All-Star Game, Hoiles is the Orioles' leading hitter with a .367 average (22-for-60). More important, 17 of his 22 runs batted in have come during the last 29 games.

Hoiles put the latest exclamation point on his second-half surge last night, hitting three successive doubles as the Orioles pounded the Milwaukee Brewers, 13-5. He's obviously more relaxed (have you ever seen anybody who didn't look relaxed while going good?), and he's starting to put numbers on the board.

The six home runs and 22 RBIs won't make you forget Tettleton, but the average is now up to .278 and Hoiles has become a lot more than just one of the guys wearing the funny looking equipment.

"Chris has a quiet and passive personality," said hitting coach Tom McCraw. "He has confidence in himself, but it was shaken a little bit [in the first half].

"I don't care who you are, when you come up here from Triple A, you're coming to a level where you don't know if you can play with the guys you've been reading about. Some guys are more cocky, they come in like it's their party, but they have the same doubts until they prove it to themselves.

"Chris had to prove to himself that he could play with those guys he'd been reading about, to realize that pitchers aren't going to make nasty pitches all the time. While he was doing that, it didn't affect the other [defensive] part of his game.

"Now, the way he's going you have to think he can do both," said McCraw. "He's going to be around. He should have a good career -- a long, productive career."

Manager John Oates, himself a former catcher, sees Hoiles as a definite home run threat in the future. "He's got as much power to hit home runs as anybody on this team," said Oates.

"He might not hit the ball as far as Sam [Horn], or as long to the opposite field as Randy [Milligan], but he has a chance to hit some home runs. He can be a good major-league RBI man.

"You might not be talking about a .280 hitter," said Oates. "You might be looking at a .280 hitter with 80 RBIs batting seventh or eighth. I'll take that -- I might even take that batting fourth or fifth."

Hoiles admits that his learning experience in the big leagues has come in stages. "There's a difference between being here [last year] and playing here [this year]," he said.

"Being here last year I was able to get used to the atmosphere, the players I would be playing with, what you were expected to do," he said. "But playing here is a totally different thing.

"You've got to be able to go out and call a game, then come in and take the equipment off and be a hitter. I didn't do that last year [when he started only six games as a catcher, all but one at the end of the season].

"I have a different feeling about everything. I wasn't producing before [the All-Star Game], my RBIs weren't what they should be. Now I feel like I'm doing what I'm capable of doing -- getting extra-base hits, driving in some key runs.

"I've always been a slow starter, except for last year when I came right out of the chute [hitting .394 in the first 32 games en route to a .348 average, 18 homers and 56 RBIs in 74 games with Rochester]. This year I came out looking for instant results and the first half was very frustrating," said Hoiles.

The turnaround for Hoiles actually appeared to come on June 23 in Kansas City, when he hit a pinch-hit grand slam in the ninth inning to tie the first game and then added three hits in the second game as the Orioles swept a doubleheader.

"Chris is a little laid back, and sometimes it takes longer for those guys. There's a big difference once you get to this level. But it was just a matter of time before he realized he was capable of playing with the people he'd been reading about."

It's called confidence and right now Chris Hoiles has it.

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