BALTIMORE — You can’t take too much away from Chris Davis’ two-homer performance in a 5-4 win over Houston on Wednesday night.
The Orioles hope it’s the start of a turnaround from a start that’s too closely resembled the first baseman’s nightmarish 2014 campaign. But it was just over a year ago — May 20, 2014 to be exact — that Davis hit three home runs in a win over Pittsburgh before then going 7-for-43 with one long ball and 19 strikeouts in his next 11 games.
For now, manager Buck Showalter and the Orioles will cross their fingers that it’s the start of a run similar to those we witnessed in 2012 and 2013 when Davis was capable of carrying the offense for days — sometimes weeks — at a time. A breakout now would certainly help an offense struggling to score runs as the Orioles try to move back to the .500 mark.
“The reason why we talk about that — or you talk about it — is because of what he’s done in the past and what his track record shows,” Showalter said. “You look at some of the ERAs of their bullpen and to do it off [Houston lefty Tony] Sipp, that’s pretty hard to do.”
As critical as Davis’ home run to the right-center bleachers was to give the Orioles a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the eighth, it merely offers a reminder of what the left-handed slugger is capable of, with no guarantees of what lies next. But it’s the reason why recent calls for Davis to be benched are based more on frustration and less in reality.
To be clear, a .216 batting average and 64 strikeouts in 174 plate appearances aren’t good enough. A 36.8 percent strikeout rate and 9.2 percent walk rate are numbers trending in the wrong direction from previous seasons, especially considering Davis is on pace to strike out a major league record 236 times.
But who do you really want to see in his place? Backup first baseman Steve Pearce is hitting .190. Prospect Christian Walker has only two home runs and sports a .656 on-base plus slugging percentage at Triple-A Norfolk this season. Former Minnesota Twins prospect Chris Parmelee has posted a strong .833 OPS for the Tides, but do you really think he’s the cure to the Orioles’ offensive woes or brings enough upside to justify starting him over a guy who hit 53 home runs two years ago?
With Davis struggling as much as he has in the month of May — along with most of the lineup — it’s perfectly reasonable to give the scuffling first baseman a day or two off, especially against a tough left-handed pitcher. It’s what Showalter did on Monday with Houston’s Dallas Keuchel on the mind. Coincidence or not, Davis has driven in four runs in his two games since then.
“As a player, I don’t think you ever want a day off,” Davis said. “You want to be in there every day, but sometimes you need it. Sometimes it’s better for them just to tell you to take a day as opposed to asking you. I think it was good. I definitely could have used the rest. It was good for me to sit back and watch the game and take a day off mentally.”
An occasional day off or a lowering in the batting order is one thing, but the Orioles need Davis’ upside in the lineup on a regular basis. It has nothing to do with his future as it appears more and more likely that Baltimore will rightly allow the frustrating slugger to depart via free agency after this season.
But the Orioles need his power potential in the lineup, because it will pay off — at least from time to time — like it did on Wednesday. Say what you want about the batting average and the strikeouts, but the 29-year-old leads the club in home runs and RBIs and is on pace to hit 37 bombs on the season.
In the same way that the Orioles did with Mark Reynolds a few years ago, you take the good with the bad. A .757 OPS is less than ideal for a first baseman and a middle-of-the-order hitter, but Davis represents the most upside that the club currently has from a power standpoint, especially after the offseason departure of Nelson Cruz.
For as long as he’s an Oriole, Davis needs to remain in the lineup. Wednesday brought a much-needed — and overdue — reminder of that.
“Any time you see that swing and he makes contact and the ball hit to right field, you know it’s going to the bleachers,” said winning pitcher Brad Brach of Davis’ two home runs that helped the Orioles hand the Astros their first road series loss of the season. “You just want to see how far it goes. That’s awesome for him. He works hard every day, and I’m glad to see it’s paying off.”