ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Eric Davis is in one of his grooves. He is playing regularly and hammering the ball to all fields. He is hitting for power. He is hitting for average. He is surprising everyone but himself.
Davis entered last night's game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with five home runs in his previous four starts, including a game-tying shot in Friday's series opener at Tropicana Field. The weeklong power surge gave him the club lead with six homers, which isn't bad for a guy on restricted duty.
"I've always hit home runs in bunches," Davis said. "I've been making good contact, and when I make good contact, I'm going to hit some home runs. The more you play, the more consistent you get."
Playing time remains an issue, of course. Manager Ray Miller is committed to a right-field platoon that could limit Davis to about 100 games this year, banking that a two-days-on, one-day-off playing schedule will help the veteran outfielder remain healthy and strong.
Davis undoubtedly hopes to play more than that, but he understands better than anyone the reason for Miller's conservative approach. He's still just months removed from the lengthy program of chemotherapy that followed colon cancer surgery last June. He still has occasional bouts with fatigue. There are times when he needs a day off, even if he doesn't want one.
"Everybody wants to be out there, but when I get tired, I have to tell him," said Davis, 35. "It [the cancer treatment] takes a lot out of you. I don't notice it until I've gone about five or six games. But I have to be honest with him about it."
Miller doesn't usually let it get that far. He has to find room in the lineup for Joe Carter and Jeffrey Hammonds, especially now that center fielder Brady Anderson is back from the disabled list.
"You almost want to watch him take batting practice," Miller said, "because -- and it may be a result of the chemo -- there are times when you can see his body kind of sag. He doesn't say anything. If I ask him, he'll say, 'I'm OK, but if you want to use somebody else, that's OK.' It's hard for a guy, a competitor like him, to say that. I know that."
If Davis is starting to look like the guy who was one of the chief offensive catalysts of the Orioles' strong start last April, he said he doesn't yet feel like the guy who ranked among the league leaders in hitting through the first six weeks of the 1997 season.
"No, because I'm not getting as many at-bats as last year," Davis said. "The more at-bats you get the more comfortable you feel, but that's not going to happen because of all the guys we have here."
Miller is convinced that, in Davis' case, less playing time can translate into more production, and he has some statistical evidence to support that theory. Five of the six home runs that LTC Davis has hit this year have come in games following an off day or a game that he did not start.
"If I'm smart, I'd play him every other day," Miller said. "Every time I give him a day off, he hits one out the next day. I could get 81 home runs out of him."
Maybe so, but Davis was back in the lineup last night and he nearly extended his home run streak in his first at-bat with a first-inning fly ball that sent Devil Rays center fielder Quinton McCracken to the warning track. But it stayed in the park.
Pub Date: 5/10/98