Orioles' Davis continuing to excel after hot start
Slugging first baseman making All-Star push with his prowess at the plate
TORONTO -- It is no accident Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is becoming a star.
Last season, Davis experienced what it's like to be an everyday player at the Major League level for the first time, and he responded by setting career highs in every meaningful offensive category. For Davis' encore, the 27-year-old is doing more damage at the plate than just about any player in the game.
Davis says a switch turned on in his head last September -- when he set monthly highs for the 2012 season in batting average (.337), on-base percentage (.419), home runs (eight) and walks (11) -- that has had a carry-over effect into 2013. The higher walk totals and robust numbers were a result of having more patience at the plate and a better understanding of how opposing pitchers were trying to attack him.
"There was a point last year where I thought, 'I can compete up here, and I can do it on an everyday basis.'" said Davis, who has a Major League-leading 16 home runs, .721 slugging percentage and 1.153 OPS. "The success wasn't because I was getting lucky, it was because I worked hard. At the end of last year, that's something I really realized and embraced."
Davis is striking out less frequently than ever, has a career-high walk rate and is swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone compared to last season, according to Fangraphs.com.
Coming up through the Texas Rangers' farm system, Davis said his pull-happy approach was setting him up for failure. But O's hitting coach Jim Presley, whom Davis said keeps him in check mentally, has drilled into his head that he needs to let the ball get deeper in the zone and go with the pitch.
Now, Presley said, Davis can "hit the ball to left field as much as he can to center and right."
"I wasn't trying to pull everything; it wasn't by design," said Davis, whose 34 extra-base hits through Baltimore's first 50 games is a franchise record. "I just didn't know what it meant to let the ball travel and really go the other way."
Those adjustments, as well as the confidence that comes with an everyday job, has Davis enjoying a breakout campaign five years after he made his Major League debut with the Rangers in 2008.
"This guy can hit .300," Presley said. "I just don't see him as a .250 hitter who is pull, pull, pull and just hitting home runs."
Taking pride in drawing free passes, Davis said, is something that was foreign to him, but now he embraces it.
"I think it's something I was never really fond of," Davis said. "Nobody wants to go up there and walk. It's a sign of patience and selflessness, knowing that you are kind of passing the baton. That's something [manager] Buck [Showalter] always talks about."
Davis had instant gratitude for Showalter after the skipper promised him that he would be given a chance to be a regular in the lineup after the Orioles acquired him from the Rangers in 2011.
Receiving everyday at-bats and being allowed to fight his way through a slump is something Davis described as a turning point in his career.
"I felt like there were times where there was a little bit of pressure on me," Davis said. "Because I knew if I failed last year, it wasn't the fault of anybody else but mine, because I was going to be given the opportunity."
That wasn't always the case in Texas, where Davis shuffled back and forth between the Majors and Minors, and battled inconsistency at the big league level. The constant juggling and uncertainty surrounding his future with the Rangers began to wear on him mentally.
"There were times in Texas when I felt like they were giving me an opportunity, and there were other times when I felt like if I made one mistake, I was going to be gone," Davis said. "It was a very uncomfortable feeling, and it took a lot of joy away from coming to the field every day.
"It's kind of crazy to say, because my whole life I enjoyed playing the game of baseball and there were days that I didn't even want to go to the field."
Davis would terrorize Minor League pitching but was unable to translate that success to the Majors, going through extended periods of time without seeing the results he desired.
"I was like, 'I think I have as much talent as these guys and the ability to play up here.'" Davis said. "There were times when I showed that ability, but then there were times when I was just so unable to make an adjustment and I was just overwhelmed."
The Rangers eventually parted ways with him, shipping Davis and right-hander Tommy Hunter to the O's in return for reliever Koji Uehara, a trade which made sense for both clubs at the time but has paid massive dividends for Baltimore since.
"Our people did a good job," Showalter said. "We gave up a good player for him, somebody that helped [Texas] almost win the World Series."
The Rangers made Davis a fifth-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft months before parting ways with Showalter as their manager. The two didn't cross paths, but Showalter heard a lot of talk about the talent that Davis possessed.
"Some people that I really respected in our Minor Leagues at that time thought real well of him," Showalter said.
And while Showalter didn't get to manage Davis then, he doesn't believe he really has to do it now, either.
"He's just in a good place," Showalter said. "Sometimes the best managing you do is the managing you don't do."