8 enough to boost run production Webster-Hoiles combo carries bottom of order


ARLINGTON, Texas -- The revival of the Orioles' power-based offense has coincided with the reawakened bats of catchers Lenny Webster and Chris Hoiles. Injecting life into the No. 8 spot of the lineup appears to be the tonic for an attack that had generated 43 runs in its past 15 games before Saturday.

Webster drove in four two-out runs in Monday's 5-0 win over the Toronto Blue Jays and drove in two with a single during last night's five-run outburst in the second inning. Hoiles, now involved in an obvious time-share at the position, ignited Tuesday' 11-5 win with a first-inning grand slam, also with two outs.

In the three games before last night's series opener against the slumping Texas Rangers, the Orioles No. 8 spot was a combined 5-for-10 with nine RBI. The Orioles won the three games by a combined 27-12 while trailing for only one-half inning. The battering included a three-run inning, two four-run innings and a six-run outburst. Before Sunday, the club had suffered 76 consecutive innings without anything more than a two-run.

"I think it's magnified whenever you get production out of the bottom of lineup," Hoiles said. "When that happens, you're turning it back over to the top of the order and that's usually when you see some big innings."

Hoiles suffered a horrendous first half in which manager Ray Miller gradually eroded his role as starter. However, Hoiles began last night hitting .281 (16-57) with three home runs and nine RBI in his past 14 games, boosting his average from .197 to .245. He has three home runs in his past eight starts compared with two in his first 41.

"It's been like this every year for the past seven years," said Hoiles, a notoriously slow starter still cranky over Miller's split arrangement. "Everything has been the same this year except for playing time. I've accepted that because I guess that's the way it's going to be."

He and Webster split time with Hoiles catching Mike Mussina and Doug Drabek, and Webster handling Scott Erickson and Sidney Ponson. Webster also handled rookie Nerio Rodriguez in Monday's six-inning performance.

Webster is also enjoying a resurgence. In his past 17 games he is hitting .327 with two home runs and eight RBIs.

Miller: Stay the course

Miller and his veteran clubhouse think alike concerning the organization's short-term direction. As Cal Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro and Mike Mussina have said before, Miller is emphatically lobbying for the club to remain intact for the rest of the season rather than dump pending free agents for prospects. Miller has made known his desire to general manager Pat Gillick and majority owner Peter Angelos and may restate his position when Angelos returns from a European vacation this weekend.

"I need to get Art back. That's a must," Miller said of disabled reliever Arthur Rhodes. "I'd like to get either [Jimmy] Key or [Scott] Kamieniecki back and see where we are."

The Orioles are optimistic Key will be back from an inflamed left rotator cuff by early next month. They are less certain about Kamieniecki, who complained about recurring neck stiffness during a Tuesday rehab appearance with Double-A Bowie.

"I try to look at the schedule. I want the club to focus just on this day's game. That's what I'm trying to do," Miller said.

It is easier said than done. With the July 31 trade deadline bearing down on his team, Miller knows it must continue to show encouraging signs or risk being taken apart as part of an eight-month restructuring.

Miller, who has no delusions about the available talent at Triple-A Rochester, has begun highlighting names on the organization's daily minor-league report. Big on numbers, Miller is trying to familiarize himself as much with those players with impressive statistics as well as those possessing impressive tools. Though describing it as "a tough call," he is open to dealing all but the organization's elite.

"I know you have to have talent. But after 21 years in the big leagues, you sit down with a list of 35 prospects. If you're lucky, two of them show up," Miller said. "I think it takes critical, same-page analysis from everybody involved regarding who you have. If you've got a can't-miss guy, then you keep him at all costs. But you need to have a system in place to designate those guys."

Around the horn

Rich Becker started in right field last night. Jeffrey Hammonds remains sidelined by recurring numbness brought on by a disc-related nerve condition. Miller said his training staff is "baffled" by the condition.

Eric Davis, who owned one of the Orioles' two grand slams over the previous three days, served as designated hitter to further protect his sore right elbow.

Becker entered the game still searching for his first RBI as an Oriole, but he promptly singled to drive in two runs in his first at-bat, then singled to drive in a third in his second.

Forget pitching matchups. The Orioles enjoyed a competitive advantage last night. The Rangers' return from Seattle on Tuesday night was delayed by equipment problems on their charter. They didn't reach the the Metroplex until 8 a.m., five hours after the Orioles reached their team hotel.

The Orioles staged early batting practice at 2 p.m. local time yesterday. By then the temperature had topped 100 degrees. Only Becker signed in.

Pub Date: 7/16/98

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