For obvious reasons, the excitement surrounding younger players such as Dylan Bundy and Trey Mancini have seduced Orioles fans with realities unbeknownst to Baltimore millenials.
Not only does Bundy appear to have furthered confidence in his arsenal, but he seems to have a better understanding of how to approach the art of pitching only two starts into his second full season with the big club. Announcing his presence with authority, Mancini continues to dent away at his minimal projections, showing “Boom Boom” can barrel with the best of ‘em.
Much less circumstantial, but just as important, Chris Davis’ hot start isn’t necessarily evidenced by his numbers. In a satisfying turn of events, the “Big Fella” finally looks healthy.
In 29 plate appearances, Davis is hitting .385/.448/.692 with two home runs and three walks, an awesome week’s worth of evidence. Though Davis has managed to strike out in nearly a third of his plate appearances, it’s a needless complaint. The issue with Davis has never been the swings and misses, especially when the territory is so sound in its reasoning.
Rather, the issue becomes how Davis utilizes his slugger-esque bat-to-ball skills when he does indeed hit the baseball. So, while his efforts to play through a lingering hand injury were valiant, it certainly had its side-effects.
Davis’ left hand is inherently his lead hand on the bat, and the top hand is responsible for guiding the bat through the zone. When trying to hit big league stuff, injury can create doubt, and doubt becomes a virus. A season ago, Davis’ bat looked slow, and he looked like someone that had to really gear himself up to hit a fastball.
At the expense of having to cheat out in front, Davis was that much more susceptible to the breaking stuff. Caught in the worst kind of baseball purgatory, the hell of being stuck in between all started with his hands.
A first pitch 92 MPH fastball up and slightly in, the ball might as well be on a tee. The late 2016 version of Chris Davis, however, can’t catch up to it, and even stranger, he pokes a ground ball to the short stop side of second base. How does that happen? Well, it became a case of Davis either not being able to commit to his swing because of his hand, that inkling of hesitation, or a bit of both. As his hands lagged behind the rest of his body, so did his swing.
Pressure is abound for a guy whose offensive purpose is to round the bases at a leisurely pace, so a brand new $161 million contract stained by a first year injury isn’t much of a cakewalk.
But that’s the beauty of a new spring. Life breathes, hope floats. For Crush, bones heal.
It didn’t take long for Davis to actually look loose and comfortable at the plate, and even though there are currently no spray charts as I write this yet available for the 2017 season, I can promise you there are a lot of baseballs hit to left field. When Davis is locked in, so is his appetite for the oppo taco.
His first home run of the year against left-hander J.A. Happ was a swing that reminded baseball why the Orioles invested so heavily in Davis. Hands extended with a reinforced swing, Davis didn’t look shy. He got a first pitch fastball over the plate, and he did what he was born to do with it. That wasn’t the Chris Davis available to the Orioles last year, despite hitting 38 home runs.
It really became such a subtle thing to see, but the top hand compass lining up the barrel of the bat with the baseball had a look of freedom to it. Thus far, Davis seems much more willing to let the baseball travel deeper into the strike zone, allowing him to read and react, rather than guess and hope. All of that because he can trust his hands to do what he wishes, not worrying about how the pain may effect his swing.
Even in the ugliest of swings a night ago, something happened. After smashing a patented moonshot over the Fenway bullpen in right field and doubling off the Green Monster in left, Davis’ broken bat single later in the game was perhaps the most inspiring.
Last summer, Davis would never have been able to pull his hands this far around a fastball up and in, and though this attempt was somewhat successful, the simple gesture of the swing is a sign things are trending in the right direction. Davis committed to what his eyes saw, and he was oh so close in adding a golazo to the stat line. Again, his hands don’t appear to be restricted by thought, but flying with the liberty we’ve come to know.
Obviously the numbers will even out, and things will work themselves into balance, but for Davis, such a start couldn’t have been more well-timed or telling. He looks natural once again, not constricted by the ever-present pain. A season ago, Davis hit 38 home runs as a defected slugger, conceding the injury presented problems. If Crush truly is back, it’ll mean more than just home runs. More than “threat” in the lineup.
It’ll mean the return of baseball’s premier left-handed power bat.