By JEFF BARTL
(AP) — Even with reigning major league home run champ Chris Davis struggling, the Baltimore Orioles have maintained their power stroke – thanks in large part to Nelson Cruz – while surging to the top of the AL East.
Following another impressive display, Baltimore seeks its eighth victory in nine games Tuesday night as it faces Doug Fister and the host Washington Nationals.
Davis finished second in the AL MVP voting in 2013 after hitting .286 with 53 homers and 138 RBIs, but he entered Monday’s contest mired in a 2-for-34 slump.
He snapped out of it in a big way, though, slugging a tiebreaking two-run homer in the 11th inning as Baltimore (49-40) went on to an 8-2 victory. J.J. Hardy followed Davis’ blast with a homer, and Manny Machado added a two-run shot later in the inning to give him a career-high five hits.
Cruz hit his major league-leading 28th homer in the fourth for the Orioles, who belted four for the fifth time this season. Their 111 homers are second in the majors behind Toronto.
“With Nelson being as hot as he is, I just kind of thought, `This is my chance to redeem myself,'” Davis said. “I want to be the player I know I can be for these guys. I know it will be huge for this team if I can step up and start swinging a little bit. So it was definitely good to come through right there.”
Nick Markakis went 3 for 6 to extend his hitting streak to five. He’s 8 for 19 with a homer and two doubles off Fister (7-2, 2.93 ERA), who takes the mound in D.C. before this four-game set shifts to Camden Yards.
Fister struggled early but finished with an overall solid effort Wednesday, giving up three runs – all on a homer in the second – in seven innings of a 4-3 win over Colorado. He’s allowed more than three runs twice in 11 starts.
“Doug felt really strong, which is an indication for him that the ball gets up in the zone a little bit,” manager Matt Williams said. “But he battled through. He found it a little bit in the last couple of innings.”
The right-hander is 3-2 with a 5.30 ERA in six starts against the Orioles, who will counter with Bud Norris as he looks to pick up where he left off before his injury.
Norris (7-5, 3.62) was on a roll before going on the disabled list June 27 with a right groin strain, winning four straight starts and posting a 0.92 ERA over the last three. His last appearance came June 21 when he gave up one run in five innings of a 6-1 win over the New York Yankees.
The right-hander threw a simulated game Saturday to tune up for this outing.
“You could get (Norris prepared) with a simulated game,” manager Buck Showalter told MLB’s official website. “If he’s three weeks removed or four weeks (from his last start) it’s different, but this is a DL period and he’s not that far removed.”
Norris is 2-0 with a 3.66 ERA in three starts against the Nationals, but he’s had some trouble with Ryan Zimmerman, who is 4 for 11 with two homers in their matchups.
Zimmerman went 1 for 5 on Monday for the Nationals (48-40), who had won eight of their previous nine. Anthony Rendon homered, and Wilson Ramos is batting .415 during a career-high 11-game hitting streak after finishing with two hits.
Bryce Harper went hitless in three at-bats and is 4 for 24 in seven games since coming off the disabled list.
Updated July 8, 2014