Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson knows plenty about power hitters.
He played with guys like Frank Robinson. He managed Brady Anderson in 1996 when Anderson set a still-standing Orioles franchise record with 50 homers. He now manages Bryce Harper, who, at 20, may have the highest power potential in the game.
As a player, Johnson hit 136 career homers, including 43 in 1973 with the Atlanta Braves.
So what does he see going on with the Orioles’ Chris Davis, who has 37 homers heading into the start of the second half tonight?
“He has always been strong enough and he’s had tremendous numbers coming up through the minor leagues. And he has made adjustments that, when you get to this level, all hitters have to do,” Johnson said. “I think he really has a good grasp of the strike zone. And when you have a good grasp of the strike zone and you are a very aggressive hitter, there’s hardly any way to pitch to him. He tracks the breaking ball well. He’s just a tough hitter.”
Johnson’s Nationals had very little luck against Davis this season. In four games, Davis was 8-for-15 (.533 average) with three homers, four RBIs, seven runs scored, one walk and no strikeouts. His on-base-plus-slugging percentage in those four games was a mind-boggling 1.696.
“Down and away or up and in, that’s what you have to do against him,” Johnson said. “But he’s been pretty good on off-speed stuff and on the fastball. He’s just not missing much.”
What has made Davis so much more consistent this year?
“You know, it is because his approach is very simple. He’s not changing his approach, and I think that’s what you have to do to have consistency,” Johnson said. “Pitching staffs will devise all kinds of ways to attack you, but they still have to throw the ball in a certain area for a strike. His happy zone is either in or away, at any given time. So he’s got his game plan down and he should let pitchers try all different ways to attack him. But at one time or another, they are going to have to come to him.”
Johnson was asked to compare the season Davis is having this year with Anderson’s in 1996.
“It’s the same ballpark; different type hitters. Brady was more of a pull hitter. This guy can go [the opposite way] and pull the ball,” Johnson said. “Both are tremendously strong, but I think this guy – he has, what, seven more homers than Brady did at the break – you just don’t see him slowing down. Then again, Brady didn’t slow down too much either.”
So are 60-plus home runs realistic for Davis?
“Oh, I think so,” Johnson said. “One of the things in his favor is that there are a lot of good hitters around him. So you have to pitch to him.”