O's Hernandez brings bat, too

Known for defense, catcher on pace for offensive bests

Mora struggling

June 14, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

Toronto -- Ramon Hernandez has never hit more than 21 home runs in any of his seven big league seasons. He also has never batted over .290 or driven in more than 78 runs.

However, the Orioles catcher, who picked up his 100th career homer on Monday night, is on pace for 25 home runs and 125 RBIs.

"I don't know if I'd say [that I'm] surprised," Hernandez said. "When you play a long time, you learn how the game is. I think I'm learning myself - what kind of hitter I am and what kind of pitches I can hit. It's a process, and the older you get, the more you get to know yourself."

Hernandez is hitting .301, the third best on the team among regulars, with 10 home runs (tied for second on the team) and 49 RBIs (one behind Miguel Tejada for the team lead).

When the Orioles signed Hernandez to a four-year, $27.5 million deal, they did it mostly to solidify their defense up the middle. Hernandez, who hit ninth on Opening Day, was expected to be merely a complementary player on offense, but he's been much more.

"You've got to work to get him out," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said. "He'll hit to right field. You make a mistake inside, he'll pull you. When he's swinging the bat good, he's able to hit the ball all over the place. That's what he's been doing."

Perlozzo reiterated yesterday that Hernandez, who is eighth in fan voting among American League catchers, deserves heavy consideration for the All-Star Game. Hernandez leads all AL catchers in RBIs and runners thrown out, is tied for first with the Cleveland Indians' Victor Martinez in home runs and is fourth in batting average.

Mora trying to get going

Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora doesn't believe in overhauling his swing or changing his stance to combat hitting slumps. The only way to break out of it, Mora says, is to keep swinging and hope for the best.

The two-time All-Star is 12-for-57 (.211) with a .246 on-base percentage and a .224 slugging percentage and just one extra-base hit in 13 June games. For the season, he is hitting .287 with a .347 on-base percentage and a .426 slugging percentage.

"When Melvin gets in [these] situations like he is now, he just tries to do too much and hit the ball too hard," Perlozzo said before Mora went 1-for-4 last night. "I think he's jumping at the ball a little bit, being too aggressive instead of just going ahead and trying to make solid contact."

Conine says health is fine

Perlozzo said Monday that he was hoping to get Jeff Conine a few days off to rest foot and knee injuries, which the Orioles manager believed were affecting Conine's performance. However, Conine said yesterday that his struggles at the plate -he's hitting .229 - have nothing to do with his health.

"I don't know what the big deal is," Conine said. "Everybody is asking me about all these injuries. There is nothing to it. It's just a little tendinitis in my foot, and tendinitis in my knee, so I decided to get treated. It has absolutely no consequence on my on-field activities at all."

Conine could play the next two games with left-handers starting for Toronto.

Around the horn

With Javy Lopez continuing his role as Rodrigo Lopez's personal catcher tonight, Perlozzo said he is leaning toward giving Hernandez the day off. ... Before Jay Gibbons reinjured his knee last night, Perlozzo had talked to the outfielder about maybe moving back to first base for a while. ... Former Orioles pitcher Calvin Maduro has been named the pitching coach at short-season Single-A Aberdeen. ... Toronto has not dropped consecutive games with Roy Halladay on the mound since losing three in a row from July 9-Sept. 21, 2004. ... Halladay is 12-4 in 21 career games against the Orioles and retired 20 of the last 22 batters he faced last night. He last lost April 9 against Tampa Bay.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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