Hoiles gets comfortable at home Catcher rebounds from slow start

August 18, 1991|By Kevin Eck

Chris Hoiles doesn't do belly flops around the tarpaulin during rain delays or sing old-time rock and roll tunes. He probably doesn't even eat Froot Loops.

Although he may not be as colorful as some Baltimore Orioles catchers of recent years, Hoiles quietly has become a stabilizing force behind the plate.

His defense has been above average -- he has not committed an error -- and he has thrown out 19 of 51 runners attempting to steal (37 percent). The league success rate for base-stealing is 66 percent, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Hoiles, 26, also has come around offensively, hitting .295 since the All-Star break. In his past 36 games, he has raised his average from .198 to .254 with five home runs and 18 RBI.

"We left spring training with the idea that Chris could possibly become a No. 1 catcher," Orioles manager John Oates said. "As far as catching goes, I think he's made great progress. He's done a good job of throwing out runners, an outstanding job of working with our pitchers. He receives the ball well. And his bat is starting to come around."

After a slow start, Hoiles said it was just a matter of his regaining his confidence at the plate.

"I've always been a slow starter, but, at this level, you want to get off to a quick start," said Hoiles, who hit .348 with 18 home runs and 56 RBI in 74 games at Class AAA Rochester last season.

Said Orioles batting coach Tom McCraw: "Chris is now just beginning to feel he can play on a big-league level. There's a certain amount of doubt there for guys who kick butt down in Triple-A. I think he started to feel a little more comfortable just before the All-Star break, and he's become a little more aggressive with the bat."

Hoiles said that former Orioles catcher Mickey Tettleton -- whom the club traded after last season -- is having a big season in Detroit has not put additional pressure on him.

"I'm not competing with Mickey," Hoiles said. "They got rid of him to bring me in. . . . But I'm not going to compete against someone that's not even here or that was here and posted good numbers. I don't think I can do what Mickey did here, because I'm a totally different person."

Hoiles has become somewhat of a clutch hitter recently. His two-run single in the 11th inning lifted the Orioles to a 4-2 win over the Seattle Mariners on July 31, and his ninth-inning home run against the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 12 sent the game into extra innings.

"Six of his seven home runs have either tied the game or put us ahead," Oates said. "That shows me something."

Perhaps more impressive is what Hoiles has shown behind the plate. Catching is something that Hoiles has had to work at. That work began in January with Orioles coach and former catcher Elrod Hendricks.

"We talked about the whole part of the catching game, as far as calling the game, working with pitchers and throwing the ball," Hoiles said.

Said Hendricks: "Catching is tough unless you do it all your life. Last year, when Chris was at Triple-A, I think he caught a total of about 35 ballgames, which is not a lot of preparation for the big leagues."

Hendricks said he started working 45 minutes a day with Hoiles, eventually putting in three hours daily.

"He was willing to stay over here in the winter, and he put in good quality time," Hendricks said. "To his credit, he went out and did it.

"The pitchers are comfortable throwing to him, and they don't have to worry about balls in the dirt because he does a good job blocking the plate. Right now, I'd say he's an above average catcher."

?3 Regardless of what breakfast cereal he prefers.

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