Slumping catcher lays off excuses, does extra hitting

The Baltimore Sun

Because he didn't play yesterday, Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez was given a two-day pass with today's open date on the schedule. He can rest his body and clear his mind.

What he won't be able to do, without a trip to the plate, is put an end to a slump that's wrapped itself around him like a boa constrictor.

Hernandez is hitless in his past 24 at-bats and 1-for-40. He has one extra-base hit and three RBIs this month, and no home runs since July 16. He hasn't walked in his past 14 games, so patience also eludes him.

"Sometimes I feel close to breaking out of it and sometimes I don't, but I guess that's how it is when you're in a slump," he said. "That's why they call it a slump. You try not to think about it, have fun with the game."

It used to be a lot more enjoyable before he hit the roughest offensive stretch of his career.

Hernandez has dropped to eighth in recent lineups. He got in some extra work last week with hitting coach Terry Crowley, who's trying to get the catcher to relax and to carry only his bat to the plate, not so many extra burdens.

Crowley wants Hernandez to stay on the ball more and stop overswinging, a product of his increased frustration at the slump and the mounting losses.

"He's been a little too aggressive," Crowley said. "He's had some good sessions with me. He's a good hitter. He's just in a terrible funk right now. Every time he hits, I expect him to go on a tear. He's not far off. He'll have a strong finish."

The season took a cruel turn for Hernandez before it started. He went on the disabled list before Opening Day with a strained oblique muscle, and was sidelined again with a groin injury.

"It's been a grind," he said. "Always something hurt. But that's not an excuse. If I'm having a bad year, I'm having a bad year."

Hernandez described his discomfort at the plate as "seeing everything fast."

"Sometimes you try to change too much and all it does is get worse," he said. "You've got to go out and try a new at-bat and forget about the old one."

Unlike past years, Hernandez said he might not play winter ball. He'd rather get away from the game for a while, though manager Dave Trembley wants him in better shape next year.

Liz 'OK' in debut

Trembley still hasn't revealed his plans for Radhames Liz, who made his major league debut Saturday night and gave up five runs in six innings - the last three on Torii Hunter's homer in the sixth.

With today's open date, the Orioles won't need a fifth starter this week, and Liz could wind up in long relief.

Liz impressed the Orioles with his composure and his willingness to go after hitters with a fastball that topped out once at 100 mph and often hit 98.

"For my first time, I think it was OK," Liz said. "It's not my best. I think I can do a better job, but I think it's OK."

Money ball

The fan who caught Ramon Vazquez's second home run ball in the ninth inning of Wednesday's game that completed the Texas Rangers' 30-3 victory could make a nice profit. Vazquez's three-run shot made the Rangers the first team to score 30 runs since 1897.

Michael Barnes, a sports marketing agent out of St. Louis who represents fans in possession of historic baseballs, has a client interested in purchasing the one Vazquez hit into the right-field seats at Camden Yards.

Just one problem: Barnes hasn't been able to locate the owner.

"I was watching the highlights of the game, and I had a client within 15 minutes who called my cell phone," Barnes said. "I started getting on the phone, but to no avail. It was definitely caught by a fan. You can see it. I contacted the Orioles, but I guess they didn't realize how historic it was. I guess the guy just walked out of there."

Barnes estimated that the ball could be worth at least $10,000. He hopes the fan will contact him at 636-933-0041 or

"I'd like to have a chance to talk to the guy and see if he's willing to part with it," Barnes said.

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