A prearranged 3 p.m. phone interview didn’t materialize yesterday until much later, the former home run champion losing track of time during his latest hitting session in Texas.
“I didn’t even realize how late it was,” said Chris Davis. “At least I have a legit excuse.”
A really good one considering the scrutiny that he’s subjected to regarding his offseason work.
Davis has changed up his routine, including how he’s training, while trying to regain his power stroke and belatedly give the Orioles at least a semblance of a return on their $161 million investment. He’s working out at Michael Johnson Performance in McKinney, a facility that boasts of providing “the next generation in athletic development.”
“I really like it a lot,” Davis said. “I went into the offseason with the mindset that I wanted to try to stay around 230 pounds, keep my weight down and really work on flexibility, range of motion, strengthening all those little muscles that we hate to work out. And just making sure I did everything I could to put myself in a position to succeed this year physically.”
In case anyone wondered whether Davis was fully committed to reversing a decline that coincided with his franchise-record contract. Whether another controversy might erupt over the number of hours actually spent in the cage.
“I’ve been hitting for, I guess, a little over a month now,” he said. “I’ve done a few different things. Nothing drastic. But I really took a good chunk of time once the season ended and sought some people out as far as hitting mechanics and philosophy go. And I feel like the things I’ve been working on, hopefully, will translate to a little bit more consistency at the plate.”
Davis didn’t identify who’s providing the advice and instruction.
“No big names that I can really ... well, they’re big names in the baseball world,” he said. “Just guys that I knew worked with a lot of different hitters, have worked with the more modern-day hitter and doing some things that are a little bit new to me as far as the fundamental work, the drills.
“At the end of the season last year, obviously, I had a lot to reflect on, but I just knew there needed to be a change made for me personally, and I wanted to do everything that I could and really exhaust every option to make those changes and kind of turn the page.”
Matching his total of 128 games played from the previous summer, with two fewer plate appearances, Davis batted .168/.243/.296 with only 12 doubles, 16 home runs and 49 RBIs. He struck out 192 times, registered a minus-2.8 WAR and had the media scrambling to determine where his season ranked among the worst in baseball history.
Something had to be done about it, and Davis feels like he’s taking the necessary steps. Going in a different direction than previous offseasons.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I think last season was so disappointing on a number of levels for me personally, but also for the team, the organization, just everybody involved. I think it was just a frustrating and really a disappointing year. We knew there were going to be some changes made, and obviously we’ve seen that now with the hiring of Brandon Hyde and bringing in a new GM and other front office people.
“I think the biggest thing for me was really taking a step back and saying, ‘OK, what do I need to do as a player, as a professional, to put myself in the best position for success and also to put my team in the best position for success?’ And a lot of that was kind of going back to the drawing board as far as my nutrition and overall workouts and training was concerned.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that I can’t really train the same way that I did when I was younger. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve really had to focus on maintaining flexibility and range of motion and muscle elasticity in hopes of being a more durable player. It’s been a challenge, but I’ve also seen my body grow and change in a number of ways, and I feel like I have a better grasp on just overall health and fitness this offseason and what it looks like for me moving forward. And obviously with the swing, kind of going back to the drawing board and saying, ‘OK, what are the things that I’ve done in the past and am still able to do now that’s translated into success? And what are some things that I need to change?’”
This has led to a baseball groupthink of sorts.
“Like I said, I’ve talked to a number of people, been working for a little over a month and feel like I’m in a really good place,” Davis said.
Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias indicated at his introduction that he’d be involved in Davis’ winter work, providing any information or new ideas that could expedite the process. He spoke about the club being much better with a “dangerous” and “productive” Davis in the middle of the lineup.
Davis hasn’t spoken to Elias, but he had another phone conversation with Hyde yesterday afternoon.
“I understand that Mike’s got a lot on his plate right now going into spring training with a new organization and with a lot of work ahead of him,” Davis said, “and I trust that we will, at some point, sit down before the season starts and talk about his hopes and aspirations and where I fit into this whole thing and try to get on the same page before we kick the season off.
“I’m excited. As much as I hated to see Buck (Showalter) and Dan (Duquette) go, there’s a part of me that, I kind of knew that a change was needed. After having so much success with those two guys over the past years, it’s hard to see them go. And then, obviously, the personal side of it. Developing those relationships and being as close to Buck as I was, I wish we could have sent him out on a better note, but I know he’s going to land on his feet. And I’m excited for Brandon, for Mike and just for everybody involved.
“I think it’s going to be a more productive and a more positive season than people might expect.”
How exactly does Davis fit in this teardown and rebuild? He has his own set of questions.
“I was obviously paying attention this offseason to the names that were floating around regarding the general manager and the manager,” he replied. “I was paying attention to that from afar and was extremely pleased with our choices. I was very humbled to hear the words that Mike said about me being in the middle of the order and being a productive team when I’m in the middle of the order and I’m at my best. It gave me a little boost of confidence, gave me a little bit of added motivation, I guess, to be that player. And that’s really what my question would be for him is, ‘Where do you see me fitting in? What are your hopes for me personally? And also, what are you trying to accomplish as far as the culture and the chemistry are concerned in the clubhouse?’
“Now that we’ve moved on from Manny (Machado) and (Jonathan) Schoop and (Kevin) Gausman and so many of those guys - obviously, we don’t know if Adam (Jones) is going to be back yet, but it doesn’t look like it - I feel like it’s my team, it’s my clubhouse. I was very respectful of Adam. He was there before I was. I always felt like I was kind of a leader not so much as far as stepping up and being a rah-rah guy, but more of a leader by example and the way I carried myself. And I look forward to the challenge of leading these young guys and being the savvy vet, I guess, in a new group of guys.”
There’s also a new hitting coach, Don Long, who comes from the Reds organization and likely will be judged in part by what he’s able to draw out of Davis.
“I don’t know him, but I know that, just from what I’ve heard from other people and from talking to Brandon a little bit, he’s going to fit in well with us,” Davis said. “Even though the faces in the clubhouse have changed quite a bit, it’s still such a good environment to come into, whether you’re a new player or a new coach or whatever your job is. It’s such a welcoming place.
“It’s been special over these past few years to see how steady and consistent that clubhouse dynamic has been, and that’s something that, personally, I want to see continue. And I think that’s really one of the reasons why guys are able to come in, whether it’s from another organization or the minor leagues, and get comfortable and feel like they belong and feel like they’re part of something that’s bigger than the game of baseball.
“I look forward to talking to him, working with him. Honestly, I’m ready to get down to Sarasota. We actually talked about going down a little bit earlier, just to kind of kick things off and get settled. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. There’s no doubt that we have a lot of work ahead of us, that we have a lot of things that we’re going to have to really commit a lot of time and effort to, and that’s part of the fun of the job.”
Davis hasn’t found much enjoyment over the past three seasons. Maybe he’s set up for another change besides the training, hitting approach and people around him.