Hoiles breaks out, tees off by putting cage on slow start

July 06, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

Hitters often use the "going back to basics" cliche when trying to break out of a slump.

But T-ball?

It doesn't get much more basic than that, so maybe it should not come as a surprise that a no-frills player such as Chris Hoiles would use such a simple method to break a lengthy slump.

Hoiles, hitting in the .210-.225 neighborhood for most of the opening 2 1/2 months of the season, decided to try something new a few weeks ago. He's glad he did.

"I went to the [indoor] cage by myself and hit off the tee with a fungo bat for five, six days in a row, and it seemed like everything took off from there," Hoiles said of a tool many hitters use to supplement batting practice.

It certainly did.

After last night's game, Hoiles is hitting .239 with a team-high 16 home runs and 40 RBIs, a pace that would give him a career-high home-run total and leave him only two shy of matching the career high of 82 he set last season.

No other American League catcher has as many home runs, and only Milwaukee Brewers receiver Dave Nilsson, with 51, and part-time catcher/designated hitter/outfielder Mickey Tettleton of the Detroit Tigers, with 41, have more RBIs.

Coming into this season, Hoiles had a lifetime career batting average of .272, including a .244 April mark.

"I was kind of used to having a slow start, because I almost always do, but this slow start was kind of different," Hoiles said. "I had no idea at the plate. It was like I was totally lost."

Moreover, it took Hoiles far longer than usual to find his way back to productivity. But whatever it was he lost, he definitely has found it.

In his past 19 games, Hoiles is batting .333 with eight home runs.

A driving force behind the Orioles' recent power surge (14 home runs in the past five games, 50 in the past 29), Hoiles has hit a home run in four of his past six starts.

In one sense, Hoiles says his most productive day might have been Saturday, the day he took off. Hoiles has caught 87 percent of the Orioles' innings this season.

Orioles manager Johnny Oates has been making an effort lately to rest Hoiles at either end of a day-game-after-night-game situation. Hoiles, thinking about the long-term benefit, is not too proud to ask for a day off on occasion.

"I'm feeling good now, and when I'm feeling good is when I like to take a day off," Hoiles said. "A lot of times, if you wait until you

are tired to take a day off, it's too late and one day isn't going to do much for you."

Hoiles wants to guard against late-season burnout. His August career totals of .236-4-14 in 161 at-bats are his worst of any month.

"We're going to be in this until the end, and it's important for our regulars to be fresh at the end," he said.

Despite his slow start, Hoiles has a shot to put together a career year, provided there is not a players strike and he does not burn out from over use in the hot summer days of Baltimore.

"I think I can get 100 RBIs, or at least 80," he said. "I don't have any idea how many I have now. I don't read the stats in the paper and I don't look at the scoreboard, because I don't want to know what I'm doing. I do know I have 16 home runs, and I was absolutely lost the first two months."

HOT HOILES

Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles has raised his average from .211 to .239 and doubled his home-run output since June 13. The breakdown:

& Stats through June 13:

G .... AB ... R .... H ... HR ... RBI

54 .. 194 ... 23 ... 41 ... 8 ... 27

$ Stats June 14-July 5

G .... AB ... R .... H ... HR ... RBI

19 ... 57 ... 12 ... 19 ... 8 ... 13

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