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BASEBALL / MIKE HISERMAN : Hughes Is Standing Pat at 21

September 04, 1993|MIKE HISERMAN

Rain on Thursday succeeded where opposing pitchers failed for 21 consecutive games.

It stopped Bobby Hughes from hitting.

Hughes, a former Notre Dame High and USC catcher, set the Beloit (Wis.) Brewers' record for longest hitting streak with a ninth-inning single against the Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs on Wednesday.

Because of the elements, it was his final at-bat of the season.

Hughes was hitless in his three previous plate appearances against the Chiefs and was down to his last strike. He was well aware of what was on the line as a high and outside one-ball, two-strike fastball headed his way.

"I was trying to forget (the streak) but I couldn't," he said. "My first couple of at-bats, I was trying too hard to get the hit."

Had Hughes temporarily forgotten his quest, surely the actions of his teammates would have provided a reminder. During his final at-bat, they stood at the edge of the visiting dugout, shouting encouragement.

As the hit, a line drive that landed in right-center field, came off his bat, Hughes felt a weight being lifted from his shoulders.

"It was a relief," he said. "I was jogging to first base clinching my fists. I didn't think I was going to do it."

As a memento, his teammates on the Milwaukee Brewers' Class-A Midwest League affiliate saved him the ball. "They kind of made a big deal about it," Hughes said. "It was pretty cool."

During the streak, Hughes batted .456 and had 18 multiple-hit games. In 79 at-bats, he had 36 hits, including six home runs, raising his batting average from .220 to .277 with 17 home runs, second-best on the team.

Hughes credits extra work with Brewer coaches for his fast finish, which was similar to the climax of his USC career in 1992 when he raised his batting average from .306 to .351 in the final three weeks.

"Basically, it's an adjustment I made with my hands, plus I'm keeping my head down and using the whole field," Hughes said. "I'm trying to drive the ball up the middle all the time, just trying to hit everything hard."

Earlier this season, Hughes swung at a pitch so hard that he suffered a cracked rib, forcing him to miss six weeks. That might have been a clue to what he said had become a habit of "trying to do too much."

Once he stopped forcing the issue, Hughes become a far better--and more productive--hitter. During his hitting streak, Hughes drove in 27 runs, two fewer than he had in his previous 77 games.

*

Who is top gun in the minor leagues?

Among catchers, Phoenix Firebirds' Coach Duane Espy rates Danny Fernandez as leader of the pack.

Although Phoenix, the San Francisco Giants' triple-A affiliate, does not keep statistics on baserunners caught, Firebird officials estimate Fernandez has shot down well over half the runners attempting to steal on him.

"Right now I think he has the best arm in minor league baseball," Espy said.

Fernandez has been considered a top catching prospect since he was signed as a free agent out of Cal State Northridge in 1987.

George Genovese, the Giant scout who tracked him, went so far as to say Fernandez was "ready for the big leagues" from a defensive standpoint right out of college. "The only question is, will he hit?" Genovese said back then.

For the past six seasons, the Giants have provided few opportunities to answer that question.

In his first four professional seasons, Fernandez had only 350 at-bats.

"That's what has bothered me most about sitting the bench," Fernandez said. "I've always felt that defensively I was as good as anyone I've played against. If they didn't think I could hit, I wondered why they wouldn't try me full time to find out."

Since being called up to Phoenix from double-A Shreveport (La.) on July 3, Fernandez is batting .245 after 95 at-bats--the most consistent stretch of playing time of his professional career.

"It's been another strange season," he said.

Late in spring training, Fernandez was convinced he had won a job at Phoenix. He was disappointed when Andy Allanson and Jim McNamara, a pair of former big leaguers, drew the triple-A assignment.

At double-A Shreveport, Fernandez split time early in the season, but struggled at the plate. Soon, his playing time dwindled. Then, at midseason, injuries at the major league level forced the Giants to shift personnel, providing Fernandez more playing time.

Called up to Phoenix for what he believed was a temporary fill-in assignment, Fernandez has taken over the catching chores from Allanson and McNamara because of his defense.

He is not used to the regular work. Even at Northridge, Fernandez rarely played. In his two seasons with the Matadors, he appeared in only 18 games, batting .273 in 44 at-bats as understudy to Scott McIntyre.

For that matter, Fernandez was second string on the Northridge football team. As backup to quarterback Chris Parker in the 1985 and '86 seasons, Fernandez completed 66 of 121 passes for 727 yards and nine touchdowns with nine interceptions.

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