Going other way pulls Hoiles out of batting slump Orioles catcher goes to right,rights swing

June 14, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

DETROIT -- Chris Hoiles is crawling out of a monthlong batting slump, and he is experiencing a little bit of self-realization along the way.

Four weeks ago, he was batting .330 with nine home runs and 21 RBI. Four days ago, he was wondering where his next hit would come from. In between, he batted .164 and managed just one home run and two RBI in what turned into a lengthy lesson in success-management.

Hoiles isn't afraid to take an honest look at himself, especially after three home runs in a four-game span took some sting out of the struggle. He hit two of them Friday night at Tiger Stadium to move back among the league leaders with 13, then tried to explain where he had been -- psychologically -- the past few weeks.

"Confidence-wise, I didn't feel like I could hit the ball to right field, so I didn't want to get to two strikes," he said. "I wasn't being selective because I didn't want to get to two strikes, and it got worse when there were two strikes."

There was no evidence of that during his first career two-homer ** game on Friday night. Hoiles went with the pitch and flied out to right in his first at-bat. His next time up, he sent a line drive over the 370 sign in right-center to knock Tigers starter Scott Aldred out of the game. In his third at-bat, he treated right-hander Walt Terrell to an upper-deck shot to left.

Confidence is a strange thing. It can disappear without warning, as it did in mid-May for the young catcher who had unexpectedly found himself among the league leaders in several offensive categories. He couldn't tell you what happened and exactly when, but he admits that his numbers might have turned his head.

He won't say he was surprised by his success, but he will concede that he never expected to be where he was May 16, when his home run total and batting average clearly vindicated the club's off-season decision to trade veteran backup Bob Melvin. He suddenly was recognized as a power hitter, and he wanted to keep it that way.

"I can't say that didn't happen," he said. "It was kind of in the back of my mind. Maybe that's how I got into such bad habits. I didn't know when I would get out of that, but I knew I would at some point."

It was easier to diagnose the problem than to correct it. Manager Johnny Oates could see what was happening. Hoiles realized it, too. He was jumping at pitches instead of waiting on them. He was trying to pull everything. It is a common disease among power hitters, even established ones.

"The last few weeks, I haven't been staying back," he said. "I could feel it, but correcting it was something different. I'm still working at it. I'm watching films, and I'm taking extra hitting."

Oates has been impressed with Hoiles from the time the catcher arrived in the major leagues, but he is particularly impressed with the way he has handled his first prolonged slump of the season.

"It's unusual for a player to realize something like that, and it is abnormal for him to admit it," Oates said. "Most guys would say, 'Hey, I've got 10 home runs, so what.' I think that is a sign of maturity on his part. It's a sign that he wants to be a better ballplayer."

How good can Hoiles be? He is on a pace to hit about 35 home runs, but it might be unrealistic to expect him to maintain that production for the duration of the season.

Oates is optimistic that Hoiles' current numbers are not a fluke, though he is hesitant to put the burden of overblown expectation on any young player.

"He has proven he can hit," Oates said, "but you try to be conservative. I said he'd hit 20-25 home runs. If he catches 130 games, he has the power to hit 25 homers, but I think he's going to hit more than that as his career goes on."

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