Hoiles off to good start, at least behind the plate Bat slow, but arm big hit this year

May 18, 1993|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

There's nothing wrong with Chris Hoiles' performance at the plate that another 50-75 batting average points, five homers and 20 RBI wouldn't cure.

But that's not the big deal these days for Hoiles, who is reveling in his performance behind the plate.

Last year, Hoiles became the second Orioles catcher to hit 20 home runs, despite missing two months and 51 games with a broken right wrist.

But Hoiles, who was second to Detroit's Mickey Tettleton in fielding percentage, suffered through a miserable season in terms of throwing out runners, stopping just 16 percent of those attempting to steal.

There was no one person to blame for Hoiles' inability to stop the running game, but the catcher took the responsibility as the most visible symbol.

"Last year, mechanically, I was bad," said Hoiles. "I never really got it throughout the whole year. I think the word got out last year that you can run on the Orioles, and you can run a lot on the Orioles and don't stop running until the game is over.

That's what happened. They'd run and keep running until the game was over."

That pattern continued to start this season, but opposing base stealers got a surprise: Hoiles was throwing them out.

Hoiles has almost thrown out as many runners in the first six weeks (13) as he did all last season (16). His 43 percent success rate tops his career high of 34 percent in 1991.

"This year, the word was still there [that opponents could run on the Orioles]," said Hoiles, 28 and in his third full big-league season. "So far, this year it hasn't worked too well. Last year, it seemed so easy that it seemed like a given. A lot of teams have taken note that it's going to be a lot tougher to steal."

Certainly Hoiles deserves a lot of the credit for slowing down the opposition, but the Orioles' pitching staff also has done a better job of keeping runners close.

Manager Johnny Oates said: "No one person does it. It takes three individuals to prevent a steal, if the pitcher doesn't give you time, it doesn't matter how good your throw is, and sometimes if the infielder makes a bad tag or approaches the bag improperly the guy's going to be called safe when he is out, so it's been a combination of things."

Oates continued: "Chris has worked hard to improve his quickness and accuracy and I think all of that takes our percentage of base stealers [caught] up."

Then there is the matter of Hoiles' performance at the plate, which stands counter to the torrid start that launched the 1992 season, when he hit 14 homers in his first 62 games before the wrist injury.

But Hoiles, who is hitting .227 after striking out twice in three at-bats last night, isn't terribly worried about his bat, figuring that last year's hot start was the exception to his normal pattern of beginning the season slowly.

If anything, Hoiles thinks last weekend's performance in Detroit, where he went 3-for-7, including Sunday's bases-empty homer -- his fourth, second on the club -- should be the start of something better.

"This year, I've kind of reverted back to what's always been for me [with his slow start], but it does seem like I'm swinging the bat a lot better and feeling a lot better at the plate lately," he said.

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