Slumping Orioles slugger Chris Davis 'just trying to get that feel' for power stroke

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis during his first at-bat against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on June 3, 2016.
Orioles first baseman Chris Davis during his first at-bat against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on June 3, 2016. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

For a slugger who sits in the middle of a lineup full of them, Chris Davis still finds himself in an unenviable position in early June. The Orioles' star first baseman, a streaky hitter by nearly any definition, has to recapture the power stroke he knows will turn around his season without going up to the plate and hacking at every pitch in order to find it.

"I'm just trying to get that feel," Davis said. "I have to be more selective now, obviously, and a lot of times that makes it harder to get your timing going, when you know guys aren't going to just be going up there and coming after you. You have to be patiently aggressive, which is hard to do. But I'm going to be in there every night. I'm going to be playing first base, and sooner or later, I'll get hot. It's just part of it."


Davis is third on the Orioles with 11 home runs, after ending a 12-game home run drought Friday with a solo homer in the fourth inning of a 6-5 win over the New York Yankees. It was his first homer since May 20, at which point he was batting .243 with an .863 OPS. But he entered Friday having struck out in 20 of 46 at-bats since, going 6-for-46 (.130) and lowering his season mark to .216.

Such is life for a hitter who has spent his entire career enduring spells like this one because of the knowledge that they'll be followed by stretches where pitchers just can't keep him in the park. He had one such span earlier in the season, when he hit five home runs in the first 11 games of the year.

"That's the positive side of it, that it doesn't take 15, 20 swings," Davis said. "You know that it could take one or two swings and you can get that feel back. Then it's game on from there."

Beyond the anecdotal evidence that a player with Davis' power is just one swing away from igniting a tear, there's actual evidence that the home runs that became an expectation when he inked a seven-year, $161 million contract in January are looming.

Davis is swinging less overall than he has in years past, and by virtue of that is chasing fewer pitches outside the strike zone. He said he believes the Orioles' heavily right-handed lineup means pitchers are more careful around him, instead wanting to be more aggressive in the right-on-right matchups.

When he does make contact, he's still hitting fly balls as often as anyone in the league. He went into Friday hitting fly balls 48.7 percent of the time, according to FanGraphs.

Those fly balls are going out of the park less often than any other point in his Orioles career, though. From 2012 to 2015, Davis' fly ball/home run rate was 25.2 percent, 29.6 percent, 22.6 percent and 29.4 percent. Thanks in part to more infield flies than ever before this season, just 17.2 percent of Davis' fly balls through 52 games were going for home runs this season.

That doesn't do much to explain his average, but Davis' batting average has always been particularly volatile. Even batting .216 entering Friday, he has been an above-average offensive contributor by nearly any measure.

Davis sees parallels to 2015, when he had 12 home runs and was batting .219/.305/.475 through the first 52 games of the season. He finished with 47 home runs and a .262/.361/.562 line.

"This time last year, I think I was right about the same spot," Davis said. "You understand that it's a 162-game season, and keep grinding. … I think everybody gets so caught up in the numbers. What's he hitting? What's his average? All this stuff. I think if you look at the body of work. We're in second place right now. We're collectively, as an offense, I think, swinging the bat well and doing some positive things. You continue to go. We don't try to overanalyze it."

Manager Buck Showalter doesn't love when players cite that the stats will be there at the end of the season, but said a player in Davis' position can end up compounding his struggles with the knowledge that his production is something the Orioles need.

The team is cognizant of Davis' home run drought. When he had a towering home run called foul Tuesday night against the Boston Red Sox — a ball that the Orioles contend was fair on a replay not available when they challenged the play — Showalter casually mentioned that Davis had "finally" hit one, even if it didn't count.

"Everything's fine, and he just hasn't been able to carry it over to the game," Showalter said. "Maybe the fair home run that was called foul might be something that gets him going. We all know what Chris is capable of in a spurt, and he will again. He knows. I think that gets frustrating for him, because he knows we have a need for what he brings."