FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It was not much past 8 a.m. and Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles already was in the batting cage yesterday, working with hitting coach Rick Down to refine his swing.
Who said this guy is a late starter?
Of course, that's the reason he's out there before most of his teammates are eating breakfast. He has built a reputation for being a horribly slow starter and he wants this to be the year that he gets out of the gate on time. If he has a reasonably productive first half, he just might be able to show the Orioles that his much-criticized long-term contract wasn't such a bad idea after all.
"I usually start hitting seriously in December," Hoiles said. "This year, I wanted to concentrate on it a lot more. And this year, I may not have been in the cage as long, but when I was in there, I was making it count. I was working more on strategy and concentration. I hit off a tee more than I have in previous years. This year, I want to find my swing in April instead of June."
That would be a major plus for the Orioles, a team that has downsized its power-laden lineup a bit since last year. If Hoiles can be the hitter the club thought he was after his outstanding 1993 season, the Orioles won't miss Bobby Bonilla and Todd Zeile nearly as much.
If Hoiles gets points for his work ethic, he also should be applauded for being honest with himself. He makes no excuse for his lackluster performance early last season. He just wants to find a way to improve it.
"It bothers me because it affects my overall numbers," he said. "The last couple of years, I've hit .250 or .260, struggling for three out of the six months of the season. I have to go nuts the last three months of the season just to be respectable. If I could be consistent, I think I could be a .280 or .290 or maybe even a .300 hitter.
"I miss a lot of opportunities and I end up with 70 or 80 RBIs. That means if I can produce in just 20 more opportunities in the first three months of the year well, I feel deep inside that I'm a 100-RBI guy and I can hit 30 home runs if I can just avoid getting off to a slow start."
The Orioles likely will start the season with an 11-man pitching staff, though manager Davey Johnson said it was too early to speculate seriously on the makeup of the Opening Day roster.
"It depends on who you have and what injuries you have," he said. "Last year, there were times I wished I had 14, so I could see us going with 12."
That, of course, would depend on the makeup of the rest of the roster. The Orioles appear to have great versatility in the infield and outfield, so they may not need more than one utility infielder, especially after Roberto Alomar returns from his five-game suspension.
"Last year, we broke camp with three utility infielders and didn't have the depth to push those utility infielders out of there," Johnson said. "This year, I would think a maximum of two, depending on what some other guys do."
The schedule for the second day of workouts had to be altered yesterday when heavy rains made the fields unplayable. The pitchers were able to throw from the covered mounds and the catchers hit in the batting cages, but pitching coach Ray Miller took advantage of the extra time in the clubhouse to hold a 30-minute meeting and explain his philosophy of pitching.
"It was a good opportunity for everyone to get on the same page with Ray," Johnson said.
There were some sore bodies the day after Saturday's opening workout. Reliever Armando Benitez was wearing a brace on his right knee yesterday and veteran Jesse Orosco also was bothered by some leg soreness, but Johnson said both were minor problems.
"It [the rain] worked out good for them," Johnson said. "We were able to keep them off the field."
Pub Date: 2/17/97