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Orioles showing signs they can beat defensive shifts in 2016

Orioles' Matt Wieters, left, high-fives teammate Chris Davis after Davis hit a solo home run in the third inning against the Minnesota Twins in Baltimore, Wednesday, April 6, 2016.
Orioles' Matt Wieters, left, high-fives teammate Chris Davis after Davis hit a solo home run in the third inning against the Minnesota Twins in Baltimore, Wednesday, April 6, 2016. (Patrick Semansky / AP)

Chris Davis' home run Wednesday got the headlines, but it was his ground ball up the middle that eluded shifting Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier that illustrates some of the Orioles' development, manager Buck Showalter said.

Davis is taking what pitchers give him, meaning he's walking and going with the ball, and hitting through defensive shifts in the process. He's not the only one.

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In the small sample of two games, Showalter feels like pull-heavy hitters like Davis, right fielder Mark Trumbo, catcher Matt Wieters and designated hitter Pedro Alvarez are representative of a larger trend in the game where hitters no longer cooperate with the shift.

"I've said defenses caught up with the wishbone and the veer [offense in football], and things changed," Showalter said. "But the game usually corrects itself with these shifts and what have you. I saw a lot of guys in the spring really letting the ball travel and try to block the ball the other way, consciously, on both teams.

"You always wonder whether it's going to carry over during the season, but don't sell these offenses short about making adjustments to some of the defenses that are going on. Just how many times are you going to hit that one-hop line drive to right field and be out at first?"

For the Orioles, Showalter seems to think the answer to that is "not as many times as usual." Davis' ground-ball single might have been an out against a regular defense, but Dozier had to travel too far to get it. Similarly, Wieters' and Trumbo's singles that gave them a walk-off win Monday were through the middle — nearly shift-proof.

Already, Showalter said, they're seeing a difference in how third basemen play on the left side of the infield because of the times when Davis, Alvarez and Wieters bunted against the shift for base hits in spring training.

Davis said that some of that mindset of avoiding the types of swings that play into the shift can be attributed to the team's dedication to taking better at-bats and simply keeping the train moving in a deep lineup.

"I think it's more being conscious of it to swing at good pitches," Davis said. "We know the power potential this lineup has … the amount of damage we are capable of doing, but we know we have to go out there and swing at good pitches."

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