Being at ready is mind game, too, for Hulett

July 22, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Tim Hulett is not a complainer, a personality trait that comes in handy for the role he plays with the Orioles.

"Everybody would like to play more," said Hulett, whose 12th-inning single drove in the winning run in the Orioles' 3-2 victory over the White Sox Monday night. "But I understand what he [manager Johnny Oates] is trying to do and where I fit in.

"I pretty much understand my role," said the soft-spoken infielder. Mostly that role requires Hulett to sit and wait . . . and wait . . . and wait.

It is one Oates can relate to, because he spent much of his 10-year career doing the same thing as a back-up catcher. "The difference is that I wasn't expected to hit," said Oates. "When I played, my goal was to catch a shutout -- or at least a win. If I hit, it was a bonus.

"Some guys who aren't every day players are able to do it [play on an irregular basis] and others aren't," said Oates. "Tim is a good defensive player at two positions -- second base and third base -- so you never have to worry about that end of it.

"He has the ability to sit as long as two weeks and still have good at-bats, and he can hit the ball out of the park. Those are the things that make him an ideal utility player," said Oates.

It's easier, of course, to say the words than do the job. "The easy part [of the job] is to stay physically ready," said Hulett, who'd had only 30 at-bats since May 30 before producing the game-winning hit two nights ago.

"The mental part of the game is the tough part. Sometimes it's tough to feel like you're part of the team when you're not playing and you have to guard against losing your motivation."

Like most players in his role, Hulett has found the more modern facilities to be an asset in keeping himself ready.

"The availability of the batting cage at our new stadium is great," said Hulett. "That's something we couldn't do before."

There are times when Hulett will utilize Oriole Park's practice facility, which is just behind the dugout, for more than just a physical workout.

"Sometimes it helps to go up there by yourself when it's quiet and try to work on game situations," he said.

Playing mind games is an important part of Hulett's role. Other than the rare times he starts (and this afternoon's game against the White Sox could be one of them), his at-bats are always late in the game. The opportunities come either as a pinch hitter or as a defensive replacement, which was the case two nights ago.

"You're only going to get one shot," said Hulett. "I haven't done a lot of pinch hitting, but I've always been able to hit in certain situations."

Not that those situations are always predictable. For the first two pitches of his at-bat Monday night, Hulett found himself on the short end of a guessing game.

"He [Roberto Hernandez] threw me a slider on the first pitch and I had no chance," said Hulett. "Then, I was looking for something away that I could hit the other way [to right field] and as a result I swung and missed a high outside fastball."

At that point, Hulett dismissed most strategical thoughts. "It was basically see the ball and hit it," he said. Four swings later (the first three were foul balls) Hulett got a pitch he hammered to left field.

It was a case of perseverance and discipline paying off. The one pitch Hulett knew he wasn't ready to handle was the first one. He didn't try to compensate and make an adjustment, but took the pitch and filed it in his memory bank.

In the back of his mind he thought he would see the same pitch again -- and he did. The second time around was his charm.

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