Oates hopes return of Hoiles is catching

August 25, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

Chris Hoiles returned from the disabled list in plenty of time to attain an elusive personal goal. He can only hope it also is enough time to help the Orioles win a division title.

After being sidelined exactly three weeks with a strained lower back muscle, Hoiles was back in the starting lineup last night against the California Angels. The Orioles were 10-10 in the games he missed and manager Johnny Oates is hoping the catcher's return is one of several in the next 10 days.

"He seems eager and ready to go," Oates said after writing Hoiles' name in the lineup for the first time since Aug. 2. "We're looking forward to having him back -- and it will be nice to get all of those guys back."

Starting pitcher Mike Mussina missed a month and will make his second start since coming off the disabled list tonight. And Oates indicated that third baseman Leo Gomez and reliever Gregg Olson were getting closer to active status.

"Leo had a real good workout today and it's almost certain he'll go on a rehabilitation assignment Friday when we go on the road," Oates said yesterday. "And Gregg is real excited about his progress."

It is difficult to measure the impact of Hoiles' injury -- the Orioles won eight in a row, then lost eight straight during his absence -- but it is no secret that he's vital to the overall success of the club.

"He was a big part of it when we were going good," said Oates. "Any time you have to go without a guy who had 20 homers and 55 RBI in basically a half season, you're going to miss him."

When Hoiles went down it brought back memories of a year ago, when he missed 51 games after suffering a broken wrist when hit by a pitch from Tim Leary. It was also a reminder as to how vulnerable catchers are to injury.

Hoiles' primary goal for the past two years has been to play at least 125 games. That's a number he's reached only once in his eight-year career. In 1988 he played 22 games with Triple-A Toledo and 103 for Double-A Glens Falls, combining for 19 home runs and 79 RBI.

That's the year he was traded to the Orioles in the deal that sent Fred Lynn to the Tigers. After two more seasons he was in Baltimore to stay, but the most games he's ever played in a single season was 107, in 1991.

"One of my goals has been to catch 125 games and I think I'm going to have that many before the season is over," said Hoiles, who played in his 94th last night. "It hurt to miss three weeks, especially the way I was going and the way the team was going.

"But there's a lot of the season left, and I feel like I can catch pretty much every day the rest of the way. Hopefully I can stay healthy and help us win."

Before injuring his back, Hoiles had been on a 60-game streak during which he hit .325. He already had matched his home run total of a year ago (20) and was substantially ahead in RBI (55-40).

"Hitting at least 20 [homers] was one of my goals, and improving my runs batted in was another," he said. "I don't put a lot of emphasis on batting average, but I thought if I did the other things and could stay in the .260 to .270 range that would be OK, so obviously I'm not unhappy with the average [.293 after going 0-for-3 last night]."

Hoiles, 28, is only the second catcher in Orioles history to hit at least 20 home runs in a season (Gus Triandos had 30 in 1958 and 25 in 1959). And there's still substantial time for him to improve on his numbers before the end of the season.

Before being sidelined, Hoiles was seventh in the American League in on-base percentage (.403) and ninth in slugging (.552).

He went into last night's game 21 plate appearances shy of qualifying to be among the leaders, but those numbers would have him in the top 10 in both categories.

And if Hoiles is able to maintain the pace he set before his injury, he will reach his goal of playing in 125 games. And he would finish with 27 home runs and 74 RBI, which would almost match his previous career totals (32 and 78).

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