SARASOTA, Fla. — It probably says something about the Orioles' stubborn reliance on power that even prodigious home run hitter Chris Davis conceded recently that there is more to winning than seeing who can hit a baseball the farthest.
Obviously, the Orioles do that better than anyone, but several years at or near the top of the major league home run rankings have not translated into the consistent attack that might have allowed the O's to position themselves better for the playoffs last year.
"That's the thing, we know we can hit the ball out of the yard," Davis said, "but I'd rather see us do it with one or two runners on, or even three instead of going up there hitting solo shots. I think a lot of times when you hit a two- or three-run homer it's really deflating to the other team as opposed to a solo shot."
He's right, of course, and he's not exactly expounding on a groundbreaking theory, but it's one thing to recognize a problem and another to solve it.
Baseball operations chief Dan Duquette has tried to upgrade the team's on-base potential every year he has been here. This winter's big addition in that regard was right fielder Seth Smith. Last year's was Hyun Soo Kim. Perhaps the combination of more playing time for Kim and another solid left-handed-hitting outfielder will do the trick.
"I think Seth is going to be good for us because he knows how to work the count," Davis said. "He knows how to get on base."
Davis can only impact his part of the equation which, under optimum circumstances, includes both a boatload of home runs and one of the team's top on-base percentages. Even under not-so-optimum circumstances, Davis ranked second on the team last year with 38 homers and second among full-time starters with a .332 OBP, but it was obvious that he was not himself.
He batted just .221, which was the lowest batting average of any major league first baseman with enough at-bats to qualify for the official rankings. He led the league with 219 strikeouts. Those are not the kind of numbers you want to put up in the first year of a club-record, seven-year mega-deal, but contract pressure had nothing to do with it.
Davis played with a sore left hand for much of last season, an injury he suffered diving into a base. He said last week that he knew it was hindering him, but didn't realize how much until he started swinging the bat pain-free over the winter.
"It was kind of an eye-opener for me because I hadn't realized the impact that it really had on me," Davis said. "I had almost forgotten what it felt like to be 100 percent and be able to swing with both hands. It was really a big relief to not have any pain and I'm looking forward to getting started again."
He is not alone. Manager Buck Showalter also could not have known how much the injury was impacting Davis' performance, but is quick to point out that Davis was far from an on-base liability. His power generates walks, which accounts for his solid OBP, even during a 2016 season when it was well-known around the league that he was playing hurt.
"Not once did he ever give in last year," Showalter said. "Sometimes, you get to this late August point and you kind of see, 'OK I'm not going to be able to salvage this season compared to the year before statistically,' but he never gave in to that 'woe is me' [attitude].
"I saw him working every day. It wasn't like he was back in the locker room going 'I'm just a strikeout guy and I'm not having a good year.' A lot of people would have loved to have that year if you throw away certain parts of it. Interested to see how much the injury had to do with it."
At his best, Davis can hit the ball out of the ballpark in any direction and also defeat the right field shift by either bunting down the third base line or going the other way with a ball on the outside part of the plate. But the soreness — at its worst — caused him to come off the bat with his left hand near the completion of his swing.
Baltimore Orioles Insider
The Orioles were in the playoff hunt, so he wasn't about to sit down, though rest really would have been the best medicine. The offseason proved that.
"Yeah. I think the biggest thing was really the rest and the time off and not having the physical contact and the beating that I did every day when I was swinging and taking balls at first base," he said. "Really, after the first three or four weeks [of the offseason] the swelling went completely away and I haven't had anything, any issues or swelling since I started hitting. So, I think the biggest thing is just rest and obviously I didn't have time to rest during the season last year."
If his recent pattern holds, Davis should be back near the top of the home run rankings in 2017. He won the major league home run title in 2013 and 2015, but struggled with injuries the following year each time. Though he is only in the second year of the seven-year, $161 million contract he signed last January, he still feels a sense of urgency to have a big year and help lead the Orioles on a deep playoff run.
With several teammates either nearing the end of their contracts or soon to be out from under club control, there might not be many more opportunities for the nucleus of the club to make a serious bid for the World Series title.
"You'd be foolish not to realize that or disregard that," he said. "We understand that not everybody is going to be here their whole career and very few guys play their entire career in one place. The older I get and the closer these guys get to free agency or whatever it is, the more you realize that you have a sense of urgency about winning and going to the postseason with this group of guys. It's a special group of guys and there's nobody — no other group — that I'd rather do it with."