Hoiles hits stride after slow start

The hits came ever so slowly during April for Chris Hoiles. But, as the Toronto Blue Jays found out this week, you can't keep one of the American League's top catchers down for long.

The Blue Jays limped out of town last night, victims of a three-game sweep, the Orioles' first sweep against Toronto in 12 years. Hoiles was in junior high school then.


Last night, the soft-spoken Hoiles left early and late imprints on the Orioles' 4-1 victory.

He saved his best for the sixth inning, when the Orioles broke open a 1-1 game with some power displays. First, Harold Baines sent a line-drive, bases-empty home run over the right-field scoreboard to make it 2-1. Then, after an infield hit by Cal Ripken, Hoiles stepped in against Toronto starter Todd Stottlemyre, and lined a 1-0 slider into the left-field seats to complete the scoring, giving Mike Mussina enough breathing room to complete his first game of the season.


"It wasn't one of his better sliders," said Hoiles, who had flied out and struck out against Stottlemyre in his previous at-bats, making him 1-for-9 lifetime against him. "It doesn't matter who I get the hits off of, they're all gratifying. I've been swinging the bat OK lately, making decent contact and getting my RBIs. But I haven't been driving the ball like I can."

Hoiles must be doing something right. After an April that saw him struggling to get over .200 at the plate, and after making some mechanical adjustments with his swing, the hits have started to come. He finished last night with a line single to improve his average to .235.

What's more, Hoiles has shown signs of becoming the heavy run producer that the Orioles envisioned when they assigned him to the No. 6 spot in the batting order. He has six home runs and 18 RBIs, and has driven in 12 runs in his past 12 games.

Tuesday night, he hurt the Blue Jays just as badly. With two outs and the game tied at 3 in the fifth inning, the Blue Jays elected to walk Ripken intentionally to load the bases, bringing up Hoiles. He promptly singled home two runs to give the Orioles a lead they never lost.

"Your intensity increases when a team does that. But Cal is hot now, and I understand why they did it," Hoiles said. "Hopefully, that lit a fire under me."

Hoiles burned the Blue Jays early last night, and he didn't need any wood to do it. In the third inning with one out and Devon White on third base, right fielder Jack Voigt caught Paul Molitor's pop fly, then made a perfect one-hop throw to Hoiles. White, who tagged up on the play, barreled into Hoiles, who hit the ground hard but held onto the ball to record the final out.

"Jack made a perfect throw. To get Devon White, you have to be perfect," Hoiles said. "If we don't get White, it's 2-0 in the third. That was a key play."

Hoiles quietly has made his share of plays, key or not.


Despite his early-season struggles, Hoiles has reached base in 26 of 29 games, thanks partly to his team-high 21 walks. He has made his hits count, batting .350 with runners in scoring position. And he has caught 255 of 277 innings.

"I really haven't clicked at the plate yet," Hoiles said. "These last few days have been good, and I hit three balls hard tonight. Hopefully, that's a sign that the light bulb is coming on."