On the night the Orioles gave away "Crush Davis" action figures, first baseman Chris Davis was not in Saturday's starting lineup — in part because the Seattle Mariners started tough young left-hander James Paxton.
But Davis also was absent because he is trying to get his batting stroke back and was working with hitting coach Jim Presley and organizational hitting instructor Terry Crowley.
Davis, who is batting .196 with 17 homers and 125 strikeouts in 321 at-bats, continues to struggle at the plate. And the Orioles continue to try to figure out how to help him recapture the swing that carried him to a historic offensive season last year.
"You keep looking for the key to unlock it," manager Buck Showalter said.
There are all sorts of theories about Davis' inability to replicate his 2013 magic, when he smacked a franchise-record 53 homers and finished third in the American League Most Valuable Player voting. He suffered an oblique injury early in the season and might have felt the effects longer than the 15 days he was on the disabled list.
He also has been the subject of intense analysis by opposing scouts and pitching coaches, and teams are handling him differently in 2014. They usually employ an exaggerated defensive shift when he comes to the plate. He's also still recovering from a recent case of the flu that forced him to miss two games earlier this week.
"Chris is working on some things," Showalter said. "He's still coughing up a lot of stuff, not that anyone wants to think about that. He spent a lot of time in the cage with a lot of things that he and Jimmy [have been working on], and Crow's been around.
Showalter said Davis will start Sunday against right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma. On Saturday night, Steve Pearce started at first base, Delmon Young in left field and Nelson Cruz at designated hitter. The only lefty in the lineup was right fielder Nick Markakis.
"Delmon is doing well, and Stevey. Chris is a nice weapon off the bench. And Chris knows. We talk about it every day," Showalter said. "Can you imagine how frustrating it must be when, you know, here's a guy who finished third … in the MVP, second in the Gold Glove and in a lot of ways had a historic year last year?"
Showalter seemed to dismiss the notion that the frequent right-side defensive shifts might be the reason Davis has struggled to keep his average above .200.
"I don't think it has much to do with [shifts] at all, because when Chris is right, he hits them where you can't play," Showalter said. "I haven't seen a shift yet where you can put a guy in the stands. And when Chris is right, he's not a dead-pull guy. Is it some hits have been taken away? Sure, but that's not the crux of the issue."
When Showalter was pressed for more analysis, he balked.
"Sometimes, there is no reason," he said.
Gausman wasn't worried at deadline
Top pitching prospect Kevin Gausman heard his name mentioned a few times in trade speculation last week, but he said it was easy to tune that out.
"The only time I even thought about it was the day before [the nonwaiver trade deadline], when some reporter asked me about it," Gausman said. "I've kind of been focused on doing my own stuff."
Gausman said that when he was facing his first amateur draft, he learned his lesson on letting outside things distract him.
"When I was in high school, I let the draft get to me a little more," he said. "When I was in college, I had the good sense to say, 'Whatever happens, happens.' And I had a great year."
Gausman was as close to being untouchable as any player in the Orioles system, but he was one of the guys every potential trade partner wanted to talk about. He's glad nothing came of it, but he isn't taking anything for granted.
"I feel comfortable here," he said, "but something could happen tomorrow. Nobody knows what's going to happen. I don't have any control, so there's no point in thinking about it."
Showalter on Saunders
Although veteran left-hander Joe Saunders has never pitched in relief in the majors, Showalter likes the Orioles' decision to see whether he can.
"I've always been intrigued by him [as a reliever]," Showalter said. "We talked about him some in the offseason, but more from the standpoint of, was he at the stage mentally, emotionally was he ready to put starting behind him? If it got to that point, we would have some interest in him."
Saunders, 33, was released by the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday after struggling at Triple-A. The Orioles agreed to a minor league deal with him Friday. Saunders pitched for the Orioles in 2012 and won the club's first postseason game in 15 years.
"Joe ain't scared. I actually like the fact that his velocity was up this year. It's interesting. We'll see how it goes," Showalter said. "If it goes well down there [at Triple-A Norfolk], we'll see if he can come up here and impact us."
Showalter said he has not talked to Tides manager Ron Johnson or Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace about Saunders' specific role and whether he'll face lefties exclusively.
Around the horn
The Orioles have played seven straight games decided by one run and have won five of them despite batting a combined .191 during that stretch. That string of one-run games matches the club record set in June 1956. …The Orioles pitching staff posted a 2.96 combined ERA in July, the fifth-best July mark in club history. … Wallace, who missed Friday's and Saturday's games because of his daughter's wedding, is expected to rejoin the team Sunday. The organization's pitching rehab coordinator, Scott McGregor, had filled in as Showalter's pitching coach. He likely will stick around Sunday to make sure Wallace arrives at the stadium in time. …LHP Wei-Yin Chen will start in Toronto during the club's three-game road trip. Chen has never pitched there.
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