Texas Rangers

June 7, 2014

MLB Insider: Chris Davis knows tough times won’t last

After 53 homers in 2013, the former Rangers first baseman is searching for his swing with Baltimore.

Time flies when a player struggles to open the season, gets hot but gets hurt, misses 15 games, struggles again, gets hot again, leaves for the birth of his first child, then returns searching again for his swing.

That’s the 2014 season for Chris Davis in a nutshell.

Last season, Davis was emerging as baseball’s first-half darling as the leading vote-getter for the All-Star Game, and he finished with a baseball-leading 53 homers and 138 RBIs.

Davis isn’t going back to the Midsummer Classic next month, barring a June surge on the field and in the ballot box. He knows that he won’t match the 2013 production that placed him among the game’s top power hitters while making fans of his old team, the Texas Rangers, cringe.

But the native Texan knows that things will be better than they currently are, both for him personally and for his Baltimore Orioles, and that might be the biggest difference between the young Davis who struggled with the Rangers and the player he has become.

Some players just take more time to blossom. Just look at Davis and teammate Nelson Cruz. They needed opportunities to play without looking over their shoulder and the experiences that come with 500 at-bats a season.

Now that Davis has something to fall back on when times are tough, he knows the tough times won’t last.

“Grind it until you find it,” Davis said last week as the Orioles visited the Globe. “The biggest thing for me is to just continue to get at-bats every night. It’s just little things here and there. I need to get in there on a consistent basis and grind it out.”

He and the Orioles looked fine at the plate last week while taking 2 of 3 games from the Rangers. They scored 20 runs against the Rangers’ makeshift rotation, and Davis mixed in a homer among his four hits to lift his average to only .239.

The first baseman homered again Friday, lifting his June average to .333 (7 for 21). He batted an ordinary .250 over his first 22 games before a strained oblique muscle sidelined him for 15 games, but he returned to hit .277 over 13 games before taking paternity leave for the birth of his daughter.

Though gone only two sleepless days, he fell into a 1-for-20 slump the first five games back to end May before flipping the calendar and possibly flipping the page on his inconsistent start.

“I feel like I’m seeing the ball well right now,” he said. “But my swing’s not even close to where I want it to be.”

In addition to dealing with a choppy schedule and the lingering effects of the injury, Davis has also noticed that pitchers are working him differently after the first 50-homer season since Jose Bautista hit 54 in 2010.

A more cautious approach by opposing pitchers has helped Davis continue to reach base while not hitting well. He’s staying patient while trying to get hot, another sign that he has matured as a hitter.

“I think guys are being a little more careful. I noticed that at the end of last year,” Davis said. “They weren’t just rolling it up there, so to speak. After the year I had last year and being locked in, after you have those years you understand there’s the potential for a year when you’re going to have to grind it out.”

The Rangers would take what he’s giving the Orioles after seeing Prince Fielder lost for the season and living with the struggles of Mitch Moreland, whose presence made Davis expendable in 2011.

Davis gives the Orioles a formidable middle three in the lineup, along with Cruz and Adam Jones. Offense isn’t going to be a problem for Baltimore. Containing opposing offenses will be.

Entering Friday, only three American League teams had a worse ERA than the Orioles, and only the Rangers had a worse on-base percentage. The rotation has been coming up short, with a 4.59 ERA entering their three-game weekend series against Oakland.

That leaves the Orioles believing that they have yet to play their best baseball and are still in the mix behind red-hot Toronto in the AL East.

A red-hot Davis will help the Baltimore cause. He knows it’s coming, though he knows his 2014 numbers won’t match his massive production last season.

“I think 30 homers and 100 RBIs have always been my standards,” Davis said. “I’d never hit 50 in a season. My intentions were to never go out and hit 50 home runs. If I’m scoring runs, getting on base and playing good defense, those are three things that can help us win.”

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