BOSTON — Buck Showalter offered several reasons he chose to sit first baseman Chris Davis for Sunday’s series finale at Fenway Park, but none were more convincing than the Orioles slugger being in a horrendous rut at the plate.
Davis has not had much success against Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez, going just 5-for-27 with 14 strikeouts against the Boston lefty. Showalter said he also wanted to give outfielder Craig Gentry an opportunity to get his bat going against left-handed pitching, and that he wanted to shift Trey Mancini, dealing with a sore knee, out of left field and to first base.
But Davis is coming off a four-strikeout game in Saturday’s 6-3 loss to the Red Sox, and he’s struck out in his past six plate appearances dating to Friday’s game. He’s hitting .166 for the season, has just eight extra-base hits in 166 plate appearances, owns a .512 OPS, and is on pace for 231 strikeouts, which would be a single-season record. For the season, Davis is hitting .139 against left-handed pitching with 18 strikeouts in 40 plate appearances.
“If you knew all the things that went on every day from his perspective and the work and the things he’s trying to [do], I know he’s tried a few things and gotten a return on them,” Showalter said. “And then it doesn’t another day for a lot of reasons. Everybody’s got a reason, but I know it bothers Chris and he’s trying, but it’s just not happening. I think he’s got a pretty firm grip on what he’s not doing [and] he’s trying to get there.”
Showalter gave Davis two days off in late April — both times against left-handed starters — to give him what he called a “reset,” and Davis responded well initially, reaching base in seven of his next 15 plate appearances and driving in three runs over a four-game stretch.
But since then, Davis is hitting just .122 (6-for-49) with 24 strikeouts in 50 plate appearances. In the first three games of this weekend series in Boston — which included two starts against left-handers — Davis is 1-for-12 with eight strikeouts.
“Those [next] two or three days [after returning], I thought he had some good at-bats,” Showalter said. “He faced some good pitching last night, OK. You face good pitching here, period, and it didn’t happen. He wasn’t the only one, but I certainly understand the questions about him. It’s been tough to get that consistent feel for him, so to speak.
“You get two or three days under his belt and you really like the at-bats, and you think he’s going to go on a good extended period. I still think that’s the case. We’re just not in that period right now.”
Showalter said he believes Davis is feeling the weight of a club-record seven-year, $161 million contract.
“Yeah, I’m sure that’s part of it,” Showalter said. “I know that’s part of it. It’s something that Chris is trying to fight through.”
Hart optioned to make room for Hess
The Orioles optioned left-hander Donnie Hart to Triple-A Norfolk before Sunday’s game to make room for right-hander David Hess, who was recalled to start Sunday’s game, but Hart received an strong review from Showalter before he went out.
In two brief stints with the big league club, Hart has begun to show the form he had in 2016, when he emerged as a valuable reliever. He’s allowed one earned run in 4 2/3 innings over four outings, and most importantly, left-handed hitters are just 2-for-13 against him.
“That’s one of the things I told him today,” Showalter said. “Donnie’s kind of back to being the guy he was before it kind of got away from him a little bit last year.”
Hart is one of the club’s only optionable bullpen arms.
When the Orioles sent him to Triple-A during spring training, they told him they wanted him to get back to pitching aggressively in the zone and attacking hitters, especially lefties.
“He’s attacking, he’s throwing strikes, his tempo’s good, his changeup’s more of a pitch for him,” Showalter said. “This guy goes down and closes in Triple-A because of the changeup and command of his fastball, and that’s something, you’re always looking for that guy that you’ve got left, right, left, you can leave him in there and keep the right-hander in the ballpark.
“He’s capable of doing that. That’s where he first caught my attention. He was in Double-A closing games throwing 89 mph. There’s a reason why he’s [closing] in Triple-A ,too, because of the changeup and the command.”