Miller behind Hoiles, but not on his back Coach is giving catcher more say in calling pitches

Sidelight

April 10, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Pitching coach Ray Miller watched miles of videotape while he was preparing for the 1997 season, and he did not limit his focus entirely to the guys throwing the ball.

He also studied the catching regimen of veteran Chris Hoiles and came to an interesting conclusion -- that people were selling him short behind the plate.

Of course, that insight was in direct opposition to the conventional thinking about Hoiles, who was criticized for his pitch selection by one starter two years ago and has taken heat throughout his career for his inability to throw out an adequate percentage of opposing runners. Miller saw a guy who was struggling with his confidence more than anything else, and it also was having a negative impact on the pitching staff.

"I just think that he has been second-guessed too much in the past," Miller. "I think he's a bright kid, but he had been listening to too much information. I thought he was calling the game too slow."

The solution: Miller took Hoiles aside this spring and handed him more responsibility. He told him he would be allowed -- no, expected -- to call his own game, with minimal interference from the dugout. Miller also told the pitchers that Hoiles would not be considered a legitimate post-game excuse for a poor performance.

"I'm not going to second-guess a catcher," Miller said, "and I've told the pitchers, 'If you don't like a pitch, then shake your head.' You just can't catch trying to please everybody else."

The tip-off was the tentative way that Hoiles was flashing the signs behind the plate. He seemed to be agonizing about which pitch to call, as if he were worried about making the right choice.

"I wanted him to be more adamant about his signs," Miller said. "I looked at films, and he was just very slow with his fingers. When you're confident, the fingers go right down. You can't play this game worrying about making a mistake."

Hoiles agrees. He has enough to worry about, handling manager Davey Johnson's enlarged pitching staff and trying to get off to a good start with the bat, without worrying whether he has the respect of every guy who takes the mound.

"When you always feel there are people looking over your shoulder and second-guessing you, it's hard to go out and have fun and play the game," he said. " To have a guy tell you that your first instinct is the right one, and to be able to go out with that kind of attitude all year, it definitely helps."

Though he has not gotten off to a great start at the plate (he is batting .217 after last night's victory), Hoiles said yesterday that he thinks Miller's positive approach should help him in all areas of his game.

"I think it takes away from everything you're trying to do if you always feel you're under a microscope," he said.

The coaching staff hasn't abdicated all responsibility for calling the game. Miller still calls pitchouts and pickoffs, and may occasionally overrule Hoiles on pitch selection, but that has not happened often during the first seven games of the new season.

"I don't think it is more responsibility, because I've always considered that part of my job," Hoiles said. "But there is responsibility that comes with it."

Hits and misses

On the field: Right-hander Scott Kamieniecki pitched well in his second start of the season. He carried a shutout into the sixth inning before Jay Bell hit a two-run homer.

In the dugout: Manager Davey Johnson decided that Kamieniecki had gone far enough at that point, removing him after the sixth inning and replacing him with left-hander Arthur Rhodes.

In the clubhouse: Outfielder Pete Incaviglia and third baseman Cal Ripken fought to a draw in a one-round pre-game boxing exhibition in the clubhouse. Incaviglia landed several solid blows to the midsection during the play fight, but Ripken was in the lineup for his 2,323rd consecutive game.

Pub Date: 4/10/97

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