April Shower Of Base Hits Surprises Even Hoiles

Orioles sidelight

Notorious Slow Starter Credits Off-season Plan

April 23, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles is a notoriously slow starter who never has been much of a cold-weather hitter.

It's early. It's cold. So what gives?

Hoiles is batting .412 (14-for-34) over the last nine games, with two doubles, two home runs, five RBIs and six runs. In the process, his average has jumped from .217 to .327.

It's an odd-looking figure from a guy who has batted above .240 in April only once in his career. And it amazes Hoiles as much as anyone.

"I really don't know what it is," he said.

He has a theory, though. During his off-season workouts back home in Bowling Green, Ohio, in a 50-by-100-foot facility he built on his property, Hoiles strived for quality instead of quantity.

"It's not that I did a whole lot more or a whole lot different than what I've always done," he said. "But instead of just going in there thinking I had to hit for an hour or two to get something out of it, Hoiles some days I was only in there 20 minutes to a half-hour with a bat in my hands.

"I also took a plan to spring training of not just going down there to get hits. Let's work on something. It's getting yourself prepared for the season.

"I worked on driving the ball the other way and not trying to go out and pull everything. That was a very positive thing. And since the season started, rather than try to pull the ball early and hit home runs, I concentrated on driving the ball up the middle, and whatever happens, happens."

A lot of good things are happening for Hoiles at the plate. He has hit safely in nine of his 14 games. Three times, he has collected three hits in a game. And he has been producing despite not having much protection behind him, with No. 9 batter Mike Bordick struggling with a .143 average.

"He knows more what he needs to do," manager Davey Johnson said. "I think he's tried to shorten his swing a little bit, get to the ball quicker. He's more conscious of making solid contact, rather than hitting it over the light tower. It's showing up in his average."

Hitting coach Rick Down said there isn't "a whole lot of difference" in Hoiles this season.

"Some of the balls he's hitting hard are falling in, and he's swinging at good pitches. There's not a real big difference in his mechanics," Down said.

"You never anticipate a guy starting slow, even if that's his history. Basically, spring training's over with and you get right into it. There's no reason to have those peaks and valleys."

The frigid temperatures and five postponements this month would have provided some convenient excuses.

"It's hard to get in a rhythm. It's hard to keep anything that you have when you play two or three games, then have a day off, then play two more and have two days off," Hoiles said. "But when my swing's the way it should be, I can hit anything at anytime, anywhere in the ballpark. Hopefully, I can keep the swing I've got and do some damage."

Pub Date: 4/23/97

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