Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hernandez Hoping to Break Through

BALTIMORE -- It's never too early to try something new. Baltimore catcher Ramon Hernandez has struggled to hit during the first two weeks of the season, prompting a reappraisal of his preparation habits. Orioles manager Dave Trembley said Hernandez went back to a basic approach during batting practice and sat out Thursday to let the lesson sink in.

"He's gotten himself into a situation where the pitchers aren't getting him out," Trembley said. "He's getting himself out."

Hernandez agreed with that assessment, and he said Thursday that he's frustrated with his early season production, which includes a .156 batting average and a .163 on-base percentage through his first 14 games. Instead of making excuses or dismissing the early results, Hernandez has been doing some extra work with hitting coach Terry Crowley.

The former All-Star said Thursday that Crowley has advised him to stop pulling the ball until he gets back to his peak comfort level. For now, Hernandez will take a step back and concentrate on hitting to the opposite field.

"I think he's a good hitter and trying real hard," said Trembley. "He needs to show more patience at the plate and see more pitches. I just got done talking to Crow. We had an early session with Ramon, and we're basically taking away the left side of the field in early hitting. He's going to go back to hitting the ball from center to right-center."

"I can't catch up to anything outside," added Hernandez, "And I'm swinging at bad pitches because I can't recognize offspeed [stuff]. What I want to do is hit everything up the middle and the other way. I'm not trying to pull anything. I'm trying to just stay on the ball, and when I feel better at the plate is when I'll start pulling off early."

When you take a look at the backstop's spray charts, the strategy makes sense. Hernandez has rifled many of his extra-base hits to right-center field and has shown very little in the way of extreme pull power. The veteran has said he hits the ball to all fields when he's going well, and he said Thursday he has to be more selective.

"You forget the inside fastball. You just let it go and take it," he said. "I'm just trying to stay behind the ball and shoot it the other way. I can see more pitches with that, also. You recognize better pitches when you're staying back."

Trembley sat Hernandez down and started Guillermo Quiroz on Thursday in the hope that muscle memory would take over when Hernandez gets back in the lineup. He will start again Friday and will attempt to implement his new plan.

"I think he's gotten out front," Trembley said. "He's hit an awful lot of balls off the end of the bat. He's come out and around a lot of pitches. He's not catching tonight, but he'll catch the next few days. He'll be available to come off the bench [tonight.]"

Hernandez, who batted .258 with nine home runs in an injury-plagued campaign last year, said he's happy to be healthy, and he's confident he'll turn things around with a little luck and a lot of work.

"It's early in the season, and you've got to make some adjustments," he said. "Every time I go up, I try to do my best and have good at-bats. It's not working right now, but all I can do is keep working. Maybe I was trying too hard, but I'm trying to get back with my swing as soon as I can so I can help my team win games."


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