A question for Chris Davis: Can you top last year? (plus minor league notes)

SARASOTA, Fla. - Now what does he do for an encore?

We’re talking about Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, who bashed his way through American League pitching last season on his way to finishing third in the American League MVP vote.

Davis batted .286 with 42 doubles, one triple, 53 homers, 138 RBIs, a .634 slugging percentage and an OPS of 1.004. He hit nine more homers than anyone in baseball and had 21 more extra-base hits than any other player.

His 96 extra-base hits tied him for 29th in MLB history, and he was the first player since Derrek Lee (99) in 2005 to record 96 or more. He led the majors with those 138 RBIs, which were the fourth-most in O’s history behind Miguel Tejada’s 150 in 2004, Rafael Palmeiro’s 142 in 1996 and Jim Gentile’s 141 in 1961. Davis became the 39th player in MLB history to lead the majors in homers and RBIs.

davis-helmet-looking-out-sidebar.jpgBy any standard, he had a monster year. He didn’t sell popcorn and drinks at the concession stand, but only because he wasn’t asked.

Over the weekend here at spring training, I asked Davis how he feels when he hears people say there is absolutely no way he can do that again.

“I think if you do it once, there is always the chance to be able to do it again,” he said. “I know that it is not necessarily as likely, but my goals are the same every year. That is to go out and be productive at the plate - whether it’s driving in runs, taking a walk, hitting the ball out of the yard or moving a runner over - and to be (a) force at first base that my infielders can count on. I’m excited about what happened last year, but it’s in the past and I’m ready to move forward.”

Davis clearly came into this camp focused. He feels that for the first time in his pro career, he doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone during spring training. He said even though he hit well in 2012, he came to camp last February trying to prove he could be a top fielding first baseman. He then went out and had a strong season with the glove and was named a finalist for a Gold Glove.

Now, he can relax a bit and work on his game under the Florida sun.

“Personally, I just wanted to get back in the rhythm of things defensively at first base,” he said. “Kind of pick up where I left off. I know we have some new guys on the infield, get to know them a little bit.

“Then see as many pitches as I can. I think early on, that is kind of your goal at the plate. You are not worried as much about the result as the process and I like the way things are going right now.”

Last year, Davis’ numbers fell off a bit in the second half, but it would have been hard for that not to happen after his torrid first half. He hit .315, slugged .717 and had an OPS of 1.109 before the break. After the All-Star game, those numbers were .245/.515/.854.

It was a bit of a learning experience for him as pitchers made constant adjustments to try to get him out.

“I’m sure they’ll continue to make adjustments, that is what this game is all about,” Davis said. “But I think last year in the second half I really learned what it means to be a little more patient.

“Guys weren’t coming after me quite as hard (in the second half). They were, more or less, trying to trick me rather than come after me like they did the first half. The more at-bats you have, the better you figure out how guys will approach you. You just have to understand there are times when you are probably not going to get a lot to hit.”

Will the addition of Nelson Cruz be big for Davis? Cruz, his former Texas Rangers teammate, who hit 27 homers in 109 games last season, may wind up batting behind him in the batting order this season.

“Yes. I’m assuming I’ll be sandwiched in between two righties,” Davis said. “Whether it’s Jonesy (Adam Jones) or Cruz behind me. I was excited about us signing him, not just because he’s a great person and player, but what he brings to the table as far as I’m concerned. Makes it tougher on managers late in the game in terms of the bullpen. There are not too many holes in our lineup. I don’t feel for the opposing pitchers.”

Here are some notes on Monday’s minor league games at Fort Myers:

* Triple-A Norfolk won 4-1 on a three-run homer from Matt LaPorta in the top of the ninth. Jake Pettit pitched 3 1/3 innings, allowing two hits and one run with no walks and five strikeouts. Juan Morillo pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts and Fabio Castillo closed the game with a scoreless inning.

* Double-A Bowie won 5-3. Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez started, going three innings, allowing three hits and one earned run. He walked one and fanned six. Tyler Wilson pitched three scoreless innings on one hit with two strikeouts. Adrian Marin went 2-for-4 with an RBI.

* Single-A Frederick lost 7-0. Matt Hobgood pitched two innings, allowing two hits and three runs, but all runs were unearned. He walked one and fanned two. Mychal Givens pitched two scoreless innings with four strikeouts.

* Single-A Delmarva lost 5-4. Dylan Rheault went two scoreless innings allowed no hits with one walk and two strikeouts. Austin Urban threw a scoreless inning with two strikeouts. Josh Hart was 1-for-3 with a single and a run. Chance Sisco went 2-for-4 with two singles and an RBI. Yariel Vargas was 1-for-2 with a double.

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