Chris Davis won’t be caught looking at same slump

SARASOTA, Fla. - Chris Davis walked into the Orioles clubhouse this morning with a thick moustache and a clear head. He’s determined to keep one of them.

The facial hair can go, along with the Wyatt Earp jokes, but the former home run champ won’t allow his confidence to waver again, for distractions to set in, and a slump to bury him and the team.

In a lineup filled with players who swing from the heels - tee it high and let it fly - Davis is the aggressive exception. He needs to regain it.

“I think it was completely mental,” Davis said, his 2017 season including a .215/.309/.423 slash line, only 26 home runs, 195 strikeouts and a minus-0.1 WAR in 524 plate appearances. He took more called third strikes than anyone in baseball.

“Mechanically, I feel like I’ve pretty much done the same thing year after year,” he said. “I think the mentality was too passive and I made it a point to say that at the end of the year last year. There were too many called third strikes. There were too many called first strikes. There were too many times when I was starting the at-bat 0-2 and hadn’t even swung the bat, hadn’t taken the bat off my shoulder. That’s just not who I am as a hitter. It never has been.

“I think early on in spring, for me, it’s good to swing the bat, kind of know where I’m at to get a little bit of feedback and that’s something I plan to do.”

It can be done in the Grapefruit League and Davis won’t be wasting at-bats.

sidebar-Chris-Davis-Hr-grey.jpg“I think you have to treat spring training like it’s the regular season,” he said. “I’m talking about for me. For me to go out there and take pitches and try to work the count, I mean, I don’t think it’s going to do me any good. These at-bats are precious because you can kind of do some things and work on some things and not really have to worry about the results.

“That’s something that Scott (Coolbaugh) and I have talked about quite a bit and really trying to take advantage of these at-bats and make the most of them.”

Davis spent much of his offseason working in Dallas with Coolbaugh, his hitting coach and close friend. He’s trying harder to combat the shift instead of pulling balls into it. And to feel more like himself - the 2013 and 2015 versions before the Orioles handed him a seven-year, $161 million contract that obliterated the largest deals in franchise history and has brought little in return.

“I think it went really well,” he said. “I feel like I’m back to my old self. I think obviously once the games start, there’s still a lot of things that I want to implement, a lot of things I want to do, but I feel really good about this offseason. I really do.

“The last couple of years for me personally were extremely disappointing, you know? And I think if this team is going to be where we want to be, I definitely have to be a better player, I have to be a little bit more productive and kind of get back to some of the things that I’ve done in the past that made me successful.”

There won’t be drastic changes implemented to Davis’ style of hitting. It’s more tweak than overhaul.

“I’m not going to be spreading out and slapping the ball to left or anything like that,” he said. “I’ve been down that road when I was a little bit younger in Texas and I just didn’t like the result that I had. It’s going to be more mental. It’s going to be more about my approach, kind of my attitude and really what I’m trying to accomplish at the plate.

“A lot of that is dictated by where I’m going to be in the lineup, what the game is asking me to do, but I think it all starts with the mentality.”

“When you’re in the batter’s box and you’re on offense, you should have an offensive mentality. You can’t hit when you’re going out there looking to work a walk or something like that, and that’s something that over the years, my walks have gone up, but I think it’s been more a byproduct of me swinging and knowing where I’m at. You get a lot of feedback from your swing, and if you’re just going up there and take your pitches and don’t swing the bat, you have no idea what’s going on. You don’t know what your timing is, you don’t know how you feel. So I think a lot of it has to do with the mentality when you’re talking about me.”

It’s more than strikeouts and weak ground balls with runners in scoring position and two outs that can become a burden. The contract and expectations bring a heavy amount of pressure and little sympathy from fans who are livid over his lack of production and largely blame him for any budget limitations.

“An immense amount of pressure, all the pressure in the world, and I embrace it,” he quipped. “No, I think the pressure is really what you allow it to be. We play a professional sport for a living in the eye of the public every day, so you have to embrace it, you have to understand that it’s going to be there. Pressure makes diamonds, or something like that. I’m not saying I’m a diamond.”

He just plays on one.

Nothing good happened on it in September as the Orioles were losing 19 of their last 23 games. Manager Buck Showalter was expected to deliver a stern message to the club during last night’s off-campus meeting. The same deficiencies won’t be tolerated.

“There wasn’t a whole lot to celebrate last year,” Davis said. “Last year since I’ve been here was the first year that we didn’t even have a (non-losing) record. And it wasn’t the fact that we just didn’t have a winning record, we really just kind of fell off the face of the earth when it counted most. There are definitely adjustments that need to be made. I feel like the group of guys we have are plenty capable of making those adjustments.”

They can’t have thin skin, as Showalter warned earlier this week.

“Yeah, I think that’s kind of stating the obvious,” Davis said. “There were some glaring issues we needed to address and I think we’re going to address them and that’s really the nature of the game. You can’t play this game if you’ve got thin skin. You’re dealing with failure 80 percent of the time, if not more. You have to learn how to bounce back, how to make adjustments and really kind of know how to roll with the punches. You can’t play the sport at this level and be a sensitive softie, so to speak.”

Talk of the window closing on the Orioles could provide a soundtrack to the 2018 season. Davis has five more years remaining on his deal, but Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zach Britton and Brad Brach are pending free agents. Executive vice president Dan Duquette and Showalter could be gone, as well.

The turnover has the potential to be heavy.

“I try not to think about it too much,” Davis said. “I feel like the sense of urgency is obviously heightened this year. It’s been there the past few years. We all understand that you’re not going to play with the same group of guys forever. That’s just not the nature of the beast. With Adam being under contract for this year and his future being uncertain, with Manny, as well, we’ve done a lot of great things with this team. We’ve been a lot of great places, but we haven’t reached the top yet. I think that’s still the goal for each and every guy in here and I look forward to getting after it again.

“I like what we’ve done lately. I think that with the way the market was this offseason you had to understand and embrace the fact that there wasn’t a lot of movement. Cash (Andrew Cashner) got here last night, it was good to see him. We have pretty much the same lineup that we’ve had the last few years. I don’t think scoring runs has really been a problem for us.

“Obviously, defensively, we took some steps backward last year and we obviously didn’t really pitch the way we wanted to pitch, but I think as a whole we’ve got the guys in here to get the job done. We’ve never had the sexiest team on the field, we’ve never been the pick to win the division and I don’t think we ever will be. And that’s fine. I think we embrace that role. I think it’s something that we’ve accepted and that we’re going to run with.”

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