Baseball is a game of constant adjustments. This offseason, Chris Davis worked on fixing the holes in his swing and the adjustment resulted in a league-leading 20 home runs in his first 52 games. Now the rest of baseball has adjusted to Davis and it’s his job to take back that advantage and start crushing baseballs over the fences of ballparks across the country again.
Davis, the leading vote-getter at first base for the American League for the All-Star Game, hasn’t homered since May 29 and is back in Baltimore after going just 5-for-26 with 11 strikeouts in Houston and Tampa Bay. I watched closely as Davis walked back to the Orioles dugout visibly frustrated by his performance on the road trip after going down on strikes in the top of the sixth for the second time Sunday. Meanwhile, his teammates piled on Matt Moore and the Rays bullpen for 10 runs on 16 hits.
The Orioles slugger is in his first skid of the season, but he’s also being pitched to differently than he was at the start of 2013. I looked back on the PITCHf/x data of all 12 of Davis’ at-bats in Tampa Bay and noticed a developing trend.
Joe Maddon wasn’t going to let his team be beat by Davis - and for good reason. The Orioles first baseman hit his first three home runs of the season at Tropicana Field in the team’s first three games. Over the weekend, Maddon’s pitchers rarely threw him anything in the middle of the zone.
In three at-bats against Chris Archer, Davis flew out on the only pitch he saw come across the heart of plate, a slider. He then flew out on an 86 mph changeup high and outside, and struck out on a 97 mph fastball up and on the outer part of the plate. In his second at-bat, Davis only saw one pitch in the strike zone; Archer worked everything else outside. Fernando Rodney struck out Davis on an 0-2 99 mph heater just outside of the zone to the lefty hitter to end his day.
Davis faced Jeremy Hellickson twice in game two. He popped out to third base on the seventh pitch of his first at-bat, an 81 mph changeup low and inside. Hellickson worked the inside corner and threw up and in to Davis. In his second at-bat, Davis struck out swinging at a 2-2 pitch inside and in the dirt. Hellickson worked him on all four quadrants. Davis would end his day on a swinging strikeout on an 83 mph changeup against reliever Alex Torres.
Despite the Orioles piling on Moore in the series finale, Davis struggled against some quality pitches thrown by the Rays’ young lefty. Moore threw Davis all fastballs in his first two at-bats. The O’s first baseman flew out to right field on a 92 mph fastball that belt-high but inside in his first at-bat. He then grounded out to second on a 93 mph fastball on the outer part of the plate. Then Moore worked his first off-speed pitch to Davis, striking him out on an 80 mph slider that broke in on hands. The slugger missed on the second pitch of his third at-bat, a 94 mph fastball right down the middle that he fouled away.
Rays reliever Cesar Ramos recorded the final two outs of the series for Davis, working him with his sinker on a high pitch that dipped into the top of the zone for a swinging strike three and a pop out to third on a sinker up and in.
The magnifying glass is on Davis after all the MVP and Triple Crown talk: comparisons to some of the all-time greats, columns about his breakout year and features on MLB Network and ESPN. Every pitcher has now seen tape of how he hits and will work cautiously when he comes to the plate. Now it’s Davis’ turn to make the adjustment, to work into better hitter counts or draw walks if he’s being pitched around.
It’s a long season and we’ve seen him take some big steps already. There’s no reason to think he can’t adjust again.
Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.