If only for a moment, Davis recaptured the thing inside him that once brought him to the top of his profession, that made him rich and famous and maybe even beloved in Baltimore, the thing that suddenly seemed to have abandoned him.
“I just . . .” he started, staring into the distance. He tried again. “It was one of those things where, when I was in the box competing, I felt that relaxation, I felt that ease come back. It was a really good feeling. It’s been a while.”
With Baltimore’s 5-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners on Monday night, the Orioles (23-54) seized sole ownership of the majors’ worst record. This season, as Baltimore has watched its “games back” number balloon in the top-heavy American League East, the 32-year-old Davis has seen his own numbers deflate. He has produced an on-base percentage (.230) and a slugging percentage (.239) about 50 points lower than the next-lowest figures in his career — a far cry from the numbers he posted in seasons such as 2013, when he hit 53 home runs, had 138 RBI and finished third in the AL MVP voting. It leaves everyone, including Davis, who is batting .149 with five homers and 20 RBI this season, wondering where to go from here, because he is owed more than $21 million annually for the next four seasons.
During the year-long slump, Davis has believed, as he has always believed, he will snap out of it in his next at-bat, but he has felt that ease at the plate so infrequently, for a pitch or two at a time, even he was forced to concede “sometimes it’s hard to find.”
On June 11 against Boston, Davis went 0 for 5 with three punch-outs, lowering his average to .150 with four home runs and 86 strikeouts in 52 games. It concluded a month-long stretch of “spinning his tires,” as coaches called it, and the best thing anyone could think to do was sit him down.
“It was exhausting,” Davis said of the struggles. “My solution to a lot of my problems in baseball has always been to work. I felt like as long as I was working and as long as I was trying, I would figure it out. Really, this is the first time I was at a point where I didn’t know what else to do.”
The next night, and for the seven after that, Orioles Manager Buck Showalter left Davis’s name off the lineup card. Instead of big adjustments, Davis focused on refining his hitting mechanics. He found the workouts more productive than normal because he felt unburdened by not having to worry about playing a game later that night.
“A lot of times that’s suffocating,” Davis said. “[The rest] allowed me to take a deep breath.”
On Friday night, Davis returned for a weekend slate in Atlanta and the old Chris Davis appeared; in his first two at-bats, he walked and homered. Yet for the final 11 at-bats of the series, he managed one hit. It was a double, though, and Davis felt heartened.
“He’s in a pretty good place mentally right now,” Showalter said. “We’d like him have some success, for his sake, statistically.”
On Monday night in Baltimore, Davis strode to the plate looking for something simple. He just wanted a hit. From there, he could start getting on base again, start playing like the player he was paid to be, start rewriting the narrative of his season. He could at least quiet the grumblings in the stands.
“I understand [the fans’] frustration,” he had said two hours earlier. “I know exactly what I’m capable of and what I can do. . . . At some point, I need to move on and move forward and try to find a way to still have an impact on this season.”
In his first three plate appearances, Davis struck out looking, struck out swinging and got hit by a pitch. The last time he came up, with the Orioles trailing by two in the bottom of the eighth with two outs and the bases empty, Davis dug into the box looking for the calm he felt in this spot not too long ago.
After Davis swung through strike three in the dirt, he glimpsed at the catcher fumbling the ball, so he sprinted to first base. He legged it out as hard as a player looking for any stroke of good fortune could. He hustled even as the catcher’s throw cut him down, but, for all the running, Davis could only turn and walk back to the dugout.