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Baltimore Orioles' Chris Davis has curbed his instincts to go for even the marginal pitches on the home plate . Paul Sancya / AP Photo
Baltimore Orioles' Chris Davis has curbed his instincts to go for even the marginal pitches on the home plate . Paul Sancya / AP Photo

When a walk wasn't enough for Baltimore's Chris Davis

Davis is running away with the homers by picking his battles carefully, writes Gregg Patton.

Chris Davis built his reputation as a legitimate big-league home run hitter last year, when he put 33 over the wall.

This year, the Baltimore Orioles slugging first baseman may be building one of the great home run seasons of the post-steroid era. With 27 homers in 75 games, Davis is on track for 59, which would be the most in 50 years for anyone not tainted by drug scandals.

The season has yet to reach its halfway mark, over the first three months the 27-year-old left-handed hitter has been remarkably consistent.

He has more homers on the road than in his cosy home park, Camden Yards.

He hits them to all fields. And his overall numbers have improved dramatically.

His .341 batting average is 71 points above his career mark, and his more-selective approach at the plate (32 walks, compared with 37 in all of 2012) has bumped his on-base percentage from .326 last season to an impressive .412.

Instead of getting himself out by swinging at marginal pitches, Davis has learnt to wait for one he likes. Sounds easy, in theory, but only the greats can make a practice of it.

"I'm patiently aggressive," Davis told ESPN.com. "Last year I felt I had to do something to help the team every time I was at the plate because a walk wasn't good enough."

The patience is paying off. Davis has six more home runs than his closest pursuers, and may approach 60 before it is over.

Once, the idea of a Babe Ruthian 60-home run season had a magical quality to it - until the steroid-bloated swatters of 1998-2001 trampled all over it. Barry Bonds (a record 73) and Mark McGwire topped 70. Sammy Sosa broke 60 three times.

In the drug-testing years since, though, 60 has rarely been threatened. Ryan Howard came closest, with 58 in 2006. Only Jose Bautista, with 54 in 2010, has topped 50 in the past five years.

Davis grew up in Texas, and broke into the big leagues with Texas Rangers in 2008. As a part-time player, he demonstrated some of his power potential (21 homers in 2009), but he also struck out an average of once every three at bats.

During the 2011 season, he was traded to Baltimore where the manager, Buck Showalter, gave him room to develop as the everyday first baseman.

Davis has said he benefited, as well, from leaving behind the pressure of being the "hometown boy" in Texas.

If he still strikes out at a high rate (once per 3.35 at bats), when he does make contact, better things are happening.

"I'm not messing with Chris a lot now," Showalter told the New York Times. "I'm leaving him alone."

Right now, alone at the top.

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