Davis battles blister, nerves in first Derby experience
O's first baseman belts 12 homers over first two rounds, will be fine for All-Star Game
NEW YORK -- On Monday night at Citi Field, all eyes were on Orioles first baseman Chris Davis as baseball's hottest hitter brought his slugging skills to the 2013 Chevrolet Home Run Derby.
Davis hit a total of 12 home runs in the first two rounds of play but was unable to move on to the finals.
In the first round, Davis finished second with eight home runs, hitting an average distance of 409 feet. The longest was a 451-foot blast that just missed the Chevrolet Silverado parked in center field. A's outfielder Yoenis Cespedis ran away with Round 1 with 17 home runs and won the title after outhomering Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper in the finals.
In the second round, Davis hit four home runs, the longest of which was a 461-footer to right-center field.
Early in the second round, after taking extra cuts in the cage to stay loose between rounds, Davis felt a blister forming on his right palm, which caused him to switch his batting gloves later in the round.
"This is something that happens usually once a year from swinging so much," he said. "I started to feel it early in the second round and thought, 'OK, just hang on to the bat.' It was a callus, but I guess this many consecutive swings and it decided to blow open. The skin came off a little bit, but it's not a big deal. I'll be fine for tomorrow [as a starter in the All-Star Game at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX]."
The task of pitching to Davis was given to Einar Diaz. His official title with the Orioles is assistant hitting coach, but he often fills in as bullpen coach or at first base, and nearly always throws batting practice to Davis.
"Einar has thrown to me every day since Spring Training, and I feel comfortable with him," Davis said. "I told him to put it in the middle of the plate and I'll do the rest. He throws the ball down the middle and he throws it with a little heat on it, just the way I like it."
One other thing was important to Davis: "When I looked Einar in the eye and asked him if he was going to get nervous, he said no," Davis said. "So that was cool."
Monday night, it was Davis who got a little nervous.
"I was a little anxious right before everything started, just knowing I'd have to wait and not really having had this experience before," he said. "But once I got in there and hit a few, I felt pretty good."
Davis, only too aware of the talk of Derby participants who change their swings to hit more home runs and then struggle in the second half of the season, made a concerted effort to stay true to his normal mechanics.
"I wanted to be conscious of not changing my swing at all," he said. "I tried to stay up the middle and let the ball travel and not try to get pull heavy. But it looks a lot easier on TV than it really is. Once you get out there and start swinging and your adrenaline wears off, you realize how tough the Derby really is. It's exhausting."
Davis, a first-time All-Star, won the job to start Tuesday's All-Star Game at first base with a monstrous 8,272,243 votes, more than any other All-Star. He was promptly selected by Yankees second baseman and American League Home Run Derby captain Robinson Cano to participate in Monday's Home Run Derby.
"The Home Run Derby is something you watch as a child and dream about doing someday, so when I got the opportunity, I jumped at it," Davis said. "Robbie asked me even before the All-Star rosters were official if I'd be interested, and I said for sure I would do it."
With the monster first half turned in by Davis, it's no surprise Cano was eager to ensure the big lefty was a lock for the AL squad.
On Sunday, in the Orioles' last game before the break, Davis hit a two-run shot off of Blue Jays right-hander Josh Johnson for his 37th home run of the season. The blast tied an American League record for home runs before the break, set by Reggie Jackson in 1969.
Though Davis suffered through a recent 0-for-17 slump, he broke out of it in grand style, homering in each of his last four games heading into the Midsummer Classic. He leads the league in home runs and slugging percentage (.717), and his 93 RBIs are second only to Miguel Cabrera's 95. Davis and Cabrera are also the only players in big league history to record 90 RBIs and 30 home runs before the All-Star break.