Grand slam After months of struggling, Hoiles recharged by sudden power surge


CLEVELAND -- Chris Hoiles understands that one day can't change an entire season, or alter a career. But he also knows that what happened to him 48 hours ago can be more that just a temporary reprieve.

Hoiles' numbers suggested a refresher course in Rochester might have been in order, though manager John Oates says the thought never crossed his mind. The young catcher had a batting average that was under two dollars (.198) and his two home runs had produced only four runs batted in.

Then, with one swing of the bat the RBI count doubled and before the day was over Hoiles had left an impressive reminder of his offensive potential. In each of his seven at-bats during the Orioles' doubleheader sweep in Kansas City Sunday, Hoiles swung the bat with authority.

He finished the day with four hits, including a grand slam and a double, and even his outs drew attention.

"I don't know where those swings have been the last month," said Oates, who like his predecessor, Frank Robinson, has taken a patient approach with Hoiles. Despite his unimpressive start -- (.198 with only six extra-base hits and four RBIs in 106 at-bats before Sunday) and recent inactivity, the Orioles apparently did not consider sending Hoiles to Rochester to get a few at-bats and swing the rust out.

"Not by me," said Oates, when asked if the possibility had been suggested. "The only reason he hasn't been catching more the last few weeks is because he had a knot behind his shoulder that affected his throwing.

"I was waiting for him to tell me he could throw," said Oates, "and I think it was apparent by the way he threw that he's OK now." Hoiles threw out two of three runners attempting to steal in the second game Sunday.

Hoiles' day began as a pinch-runner for Sam Horn in the eighth inning of the first game, a move that left him in the position to produce the game-tying grand slam an inning later -- and then just miss another homer by a few feet an inning later.

The sudden power display, however, had no bearing on the decision to play Hoiles in the second game. "I told him Saturday night he would catch the second game," said Oates. "He assured me that his shoulder was all right, and that was all I was waiting to hear."

Despite Sunday's explosive showing, Oates does not guarantee Hoiles will become a fixture in the lineup. "I'll wait and see, take a look at my numbers and go from there," said Oates, looking ahead to the three-game series against the Cleveland Indians that starts tonight. "Bob Melvin is pretty hot himself right now, but Hoiles will get his playing time."

Hoiles, 26, could not explain Sunday's outburst, but admitted feeling more comfortable than he has in a long time. "I've been working on a lot of things," he said, "and thinking about so much that maybe I was forgetting to concentrate on seeing the ball.

"It seemed like my timing was off -- I was either out in front, or behind -- and I was worried about my hands. [Sunday] I was real relaxed and more comfortable than I've been in a long time. I was picking up the ball right away, seeing it and hitting it."

When a hitter puts on a display like Hoiles did Sunday, the results make any differences very obvious. But change, whether it be negative to positive or vice versa, doesn't take place overnight.

"He's been working hard," said batting coach Tom McCraw, who has spent a lot of time with Hoiles. "That's what you have to do when you're not playing. You have to be ready. If he continues [to improve] he's going to be a productive hitter in the major leagues."

Hoiles' minor-league track record (18, 10 and 19 homers the previous three years) indicates he will hit with power. But that is only a forecast until he actually does it.

The Orioles are hoping that Sunday was an accurate indicator. So does Hoiles, because he and the club both are anxious to see his career progress from the future to the present.

The Orioles Hall Of Fame luncheon honoring this year's inductee, Hal "Skinny" Brown, will be held Friday at 11:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Hotel. Tickets are $25 and may be obtained through the Orioles public relations office, 243-9800.

Brown will be formally inducted before Saturday night's game against the Boston Red Sox.

Albert Belle, the moody outfielder who has been in and out of the Cleveland management's doghouse, could return from the minor leagues to face the Orioles this week.

Belle was demoted to Triple A Colorado Springs June 6 after failing to run out a double-play grounder. Despite his absence of almost three weeks, Belle still leads the Indians with nine home runs and 27 runs batted in.

The Indians are desperate for offensive help, having been shut out 11 times already this season.

The Orioles will be going for a season-high fourth straight victory when they face the Indians tonight.

Leo Gomez said his slightly sprained right ankle was much better and he would be ready to return to the starting lineup tonight. The third baseman was injured in Saturday night's 1-0 win over Kansas City and did not participate in Sunday's doubleheader.

The 35 hits accumulated by the Orioles in the twin-win over the Royals on Sunday broke a club record. Twice previously, most recently in 1973, the Orioles had 33 hits in a doubleheader.

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