BALTIMORE — Prior to Friday’s home opener against the Minnesota Twins, I asked Orioles first baseman Chris Davis how he thought he could still improve at the plate.
Becoming wide-eyed with a look of disbelief, Davis at first thought I was referencing the first three games of the 2013 season before I explained I was asking in general terms. The first baseman admitted he would still like to be more patient at the plate, particularly in spots with men on base when he can sometimes be overanxious by swinging at bad pitches. He finished with 169 strikeouts and only 37 walks in 562 plate appearances last season.
After watching the 27-year-old hit an eighth-inning grand slam and add five RBIs to his season total to propel the Orioles to a 9-5 win, I feel even more foolish for asking the question earlier in the day. After all, we’re talking about one of the greatest starts in major league history.
“I’m glad he’s on our side,” manager Buck Showalter said. “There are periods you go through where you realize how hard it is — it’s hard to do. His contact-to-damage ratio is real good right now.”
Davis’ 16 RBIs in the first four games of the season set a major league record, shattering the old mark of 12 set by three other players. In comparison, the Miami Marlins had one RBI in their first three games of the season and 23 major league teams had scored fewer than 16 runs entering play on Friday.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound slugger became the first Oriole and only the fourth player in major league history to homer in four straight games to begin a season, joining Willie Mays in 1971, Mark McGwire in 1998, and Nelson Cruz in 2011.
He’s now only two games shy of the club record of six consecutive games with an RBI to begin a season, a mark held by Mike Devereaux (1994) and Brooks Robinson (1966).
Four home runs and 16 RBIs would be a good month for virtually any player on the planet. Davis has collected those numbers in four days.
And while Davis won’t maintain his current video-game numbers pace — 162 home runs and 648 RBIs over a 162-game schedule — what feels more like a suspension of disbelief rather than reality doesn’t seem that terribly different than the overall experience of the 2012 season. Much like the Orioles of a year ago, you’re waiting for Davis to cool off and appear mortal once again.
In the mean time, he’s nearly winning games single-handedly with the club off to a 3-1 start. When he stepped to the plate in the eighth inning following an intentional walk to Nick Markakis and an RBI single by Adam Jones, you just felt Davis was ready to do something special.
A few moments later, he was launching a Tyler Robertson outside pitch into the left-field seats for another opposite-field home run. And a current call was soon to follow after the second grand slam of Davis’ career.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Davis about the records being brought to his attention. “I saw something last year where Larry Bird was talking about individual statistics and records and people coming along and breaking them. The biggest is championships, division titles, World Series. They can’t take that away from you.”
Davis will inevitably show he’s human once again, at times looking like a player in need of a day off and a seat on the bench. But he’s also more than capable of carrying a club for weeks at a time as we learned last season when he slugged 33 home runs and drove in 85 runs to lead the Orioles in both departments.
Ultimately, he strikes out more than you’d like and doesn’t walk enough, but Davis’ raw power is impossible to dismiss and it’s difficult to determine whether he’s reached his ceiling yet with last year being the first time he’s been afforded the opportunity to play in more than 113 games. His start to the 2013 campaign suggests the best is still on its way — at least in comparison to last year anyway.
As was the case in 2012 when the Orioles completed a 24-game turnaround from the year before to qualify for postseason play for the first time in 15 years, Showalter will let it ride for now and enjoy the fruits of Davis’ labor.
He can’t be this good, right?
But maybe there’s another level to his game that few envisioned after an already-impressive performance last season.
“There’s a good chance he won’t be able to keep up this pace,” said the manager as he chuckled.
Of course, but that proclamation sure sounds familiar, doesn’t it?