BOSTON -- Two months of not knowing was enough for Chris Hoiles. Frustrated with his spotty playing time and sagging offensive numbers, the Orioles catcher requested a meeting with manager Ray Miller yesterday to gain a better understanding of his situation.
Hoiles, a chronic slow starter, is batting .198 with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 96 at-bats spread over 35 games after last night's 1-for-4 effort against the Boston Red Sox. Unlike in past years, he has not been allowed to swing his way out of the funk.
The slow start is no aberration. Hoiles' three worst hitting months are April, May and June. His career average is no better than .253 for any of them. Conversely, he has hit no worse than .276 in July, August or September.
Spotty playing time has extended his slump. Hoiles has one RBI in 62 at-bats since April 21 and his average has crashed from .265 since then because of a 10-for-62 free fall.
Miller, meanwhile, has turned to Lenny Webster, a .252 hitter who was the first Oriole to hit three home runs this year. In need of more consistent at-bats, Hoiles approached Miller for clarification.
"I'm not crying for more at-bats. I'm just saying you pretty much know what I'll give you at the end of the year. It's not easy when you're struggling," Hoiles said. "But I've been through this before. I'll come around."
Miller originally envisioned a 60-40 split between Hoiles and Webster this spring but the arrangement has been closer to 50-50. Hoiles has started 30 of the first 58 games, compared to 27 by Webster. (Charlie Greene started the other game.)
Hoiles was to catch Mike Mussina, Jimmy Key and Scott Kamieniecki. Webster was to handle Scott Erickson and Doug Drabek. But injuries have wreaked havoc on the arrangement.
Hoiles insisted he has no problem with Webster and said the current time share is tolerable. However, he sought a better understanding of when he will play.
"My numbers are as good with 300-plus at-bats as a lot of guys who get 500 at-bats," said Hoiles, who homered 19 times in 332 at-bats in 1994.
"He just wanted to know if I'd given up on him," Miller said, adding that he anticipates more liberal time for Hoiles.
At the same time, Miller encouraged Hoiles, who has averaged 19 home runs the past four seasons, to swing more freely instead of "feeling" for the ball.
Oddly, Hoiles entered the season maligned for poor defense, specifically a weak throwing arm, and devoted spring training and much of April to remaking himself defensively.
He modified his footwork to compensate for a below-average throwing arm. The dividends have recently become obvious, and Hoiles no longer represents a walkover for base-stealers.
"Everybody has always talked about my arm. 'He's got no arm. Put a tombstone on it.' I've said all along it's never been my arm. It was more than just my arm. It was mechanical. My mechanics weren't allowing me to get the ball to second base. Now, I'm much stronger mechanically."
That only adds to his frustration. Hoiles believes he has augmented his credentials but remains hostage to something beyond his control.
"If this is the way Ray wants to do it, fine," he said. "Webby has played well. No one questions whether he deserves to play. But I think what I've done in the past should give you an idea of what I can do now."
Pub Date: 6/04/98