Switch to AL throws curve at E. Davis Outfielder adjusts well, facing fewer fastballs

Sidelight

April 06, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The education of Eric the Oriole enters its second week today. His course load includes the hard lessons of a National League crossover.

Eric Davis began the season as the Orioles' cleanup hitter but by no means considers himself the club's most potent power source.

Once capable of 124 home runs in four seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, he is only two years removed from a full season's hiatus. As for the peculiarities of American League pitching well, Davis often finds himself thinking backward at the plate.

"I'm feeling pretty good. I'm just trying to get adjusted to all these breaking balls," said Davis, who is batting .412 (7-for-17). "I saw one fastball all of [Friday]."

Davis already has produced for his new club. His sixth-inning double proved the game-winner in Wednesday's season opener. He singled three times Thursday, and last night he was 3-for-5 with two doubles and three runs scored.

Before last night, however, he said the unfamiliar tactics of his new league had hurt his ability to make consistent contact.

"There's still guys you're going to get fastballs from," Davis said. "But it's just a difference in philosophy. When you come over here, you've got to make that adjustment."

Still experiencing new things at the age of 34, Davis has learned there are few fastball counts in this league. In the National League, the tendency remains to challenge a batter with a fastball when behind in the count. Here, as when Davis was with the Detroit Tigers for 195 at-bats in 1993 and 1994, pitchers are more likely to yield a walk.

"It's difficult. You still have to reprogram yourself because there are things you are looking for and you can't reprogram yourself overnight. I'm going to get there, but it's going to take awhile," he said.

When he does reset himself, Davis might again represent the dangerous streak hitter who terrorized the National League a half-decade ago. Davis drove in 100 runs for the Cincinnati Reds in 1987 and 1989, stole 80 bases in 1986 and became a member of the 30-homers/30-steals club in 1987.

Back with the Reds last season after a stay in Detroit, Davis suggested he might reapply for membership with 26 homers and 23 steals in 129 games. If healthy, he will receive more opportunity within a far more intimidating lineup.

The learning curve continued early last night against the Texas Rangers. In the first inning, he singled and eventually scored the Orioles' third run. One inning later, he struck out, fooled by a breaking pitch.

His Tigers experience carries little relevance to Davis except for residual pain. After being traded by the Los Angeles Dodgers in August 1993, he hit .253 in 75 at-bats, striking out 18 times. Playing the next season for a dreadful team, Davis floundered at .183 with 45 strikeouts in 120 bats before injuries ended his season and led to his decision to retire.

There are fewer handicaps now. Except for his vulnerability to odd pitches at odd times, Davis is again sound. Rather than being the focal point of the lineup, he is surrounded by Rafael Palmeiro and Cal Ripken.

The environment for learning has improved.

Pub Date: 4/06/97

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