Chris Davis has mentioned how much last year's early season oblique injury affected him throughout a disappointing 2014. Though he came into this season healthy, the residual effects of that injury lingered in the early parts of this season, Davis said.
Now, that's a thing of the past.
The Orioles first baseman-right fielder is one of the game's hottest hitters, looking more like the player who led the majors in homers (53) and RBIs (138) two years ago than the one who hit .196 last year and had his season end with an Adderall suspension.
As the Orioles return home from the West Coast to open a 10-game homestand Friday night against the Oakland Athletics at Camden Yards, Davis — who has shown the ability to carry an offense on his broad shoulders — is one of the main reasons the Orioles are still in the playoff race despite offensive inconsistency.
"I think I spent so much of last season and even the offseason taking swings that I had taken last year that weren't really the swings I was looking for," Davis said Tuesday in Seattle. "I think I was trying to protect [the oblique] and subconsciously there was a little uncertainty about letting it go. Really right around the All-Star break, I felt like I had a few at-bats where it just kind of clicked for me and I'm taking that swing that I was looking for. I'm getting that swing on a day-to-day basis."
In 25 games since the All-Star break, Davis is hitting .315 with a .406 on-base percentage and a .750 slugging percentage with 12 homers and 31 RBIs. He homered in six of the Orioles' nine games from Aug. 2-11, hitting .375 over that span. In part because of that, the Orioles entered Thursday two games out of the second American League wild-card spot.
"Anytime you're winning and you're playing the game the way you know you can play, you take a lot of pride with that and there's a certain level of fulfillment that comes with that," Davis said. "But I think even when you're struggling, you have to remind yourself that it's a privilege to play this game at this level every single day and just go out there and try to take the positive out of every day."
Dating to his two-homer, four-RBI game against the Texas Rangers on June 30, Davis has 15 homers and 38 RBIs over his past 36 games. He entered Thursday tied for third in the majors with 31 homers, behind only Seattle Mariners outfielder Nelson Cruz (34) and Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (33). Davis' 83 RBIs tied for second in the big leagues, trailing only Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson's 85.
"Chris is always a swing away from something good happening," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "When he squares the ball up, it usually goes places where you can't catch it. You know how frustrating it must be to have that power at your fingertips and not always be able to get to it. And of course pitchers don't always cooperate.
"He has power all over the ballpark. It just doesn't have to be pull power. I think Chris realized the more pull-conscious he is, the more challenging it can become for him. It's something he's become more comfortable staying out all over the field. … [During batting practice,] he won't leave the box until he hits some home runs [the other way]. That's the only thing really. I think he's realized how much better a hitter he can be when he's not so pull-conscious."
It wasn't that long ago that Davis was struggling. His strikeout numbers were high. Early in the season, he averaged nearly two a game. Balls that would have been hits against normal alignments were grabbed in the defensive shifts against him. He was the poster boy for the Orioles' failures with runners in scoring position through a pre-break stretch. There were whispers of Davis being on the trade market before executive vice president Dan Duquette squashed the notion that the slugger would be traded while the Orioles are in contention.
"I've been more happy with Chris' batting average," Showalter said. "It's up over .250 now. He's come a long way and grinded through some challenging times. … When Chris spoils you at a certain level, people expect you to do it every time. Pitchers at this level are pretty good, too. He's getting everybody's best bullets."
In the process, Davis has hit his way into what should shape up to be a significant payday this offseason. He is one of the team's seven pending free agents at the end of the season, a group that also includes catcher Matt Wieters, left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, reliever Darren O'Day and deadline-acquisition Gerardo Parra.
Provided the Toronto Blue Jays pick up the team option on slugger Edwin Encarnacion, Davis will undoubtedly be the top power-hitting first baseman on the market. And Davis' recent time playing right field can only increase his market value. Beyond Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes, there are few corner outfielders who can come close to matching Davis' run production.
The Orioles made Davis — who is making $12 million this season in his final year of arbitration eligibility — an extension offer following his tremendous 2013 season, but it was declined by his agent, Scott Boras, who traditionally prefers his clients test the free-agent market. No offer was made before this season.
And it appears there will be no negotiation with Davis in-season. Duquette has a policy against engaging players in extension talk during the season and said Thursday that he doesn't plan to change that despite Davis' recent surge.
"Chris is doing very well, but the club policy is to keep focus on the field during the season," Duquette said.
Davis also politely declined to discuss his contract. During spring training, he said he wouldn't talk about it once the season started.
"That's just the way it's going to be," Davis said. "I think it's selfish to sit here and talk about my future with this team when we have such a bright future for the next couple of months and I want my focus to be on the field and everybody's focus to be on the field."