SARASOTA, Fla. - Chris Davis knew it was coming.
He hadn’t reported to Orioles camp, at least according to the media’s unofficial count, after vowing to arrive early. The most critical of fans had more ammunition. Talk radio came after him, too.
Davis said he’s been in Sarasota since Saturday afternoon, but an illness kept him away from his teammates. He didn’t want to be at the complex while contagious. His equipment arrived ahead of him.
“We got in around 3 o’clock Saturday afternoon and moved into our rental and found out that we needed to find another rental, and so we scrambled to get another place. I’ve been here for almost a week,” he said.
“I feel pretty crappy now. Aside from the sickness, I feel really good physically. I felt really good coming in here. That was kind of my plan of attack, to get down here a little bit early, get outside, start moving around. The weather’s not outstanding in Texas right now. It’s been cold and rainy for a while. I just wanted to get down here and start moving around, and then obviously after having the flu, apparently what I have now is bronchitis. I found that out this morning.
“It’s been a little bit harder to get out on the field, but I’m hoping to put this behind me and get moving. Maybe tomorrow they’ll clear me to get out on the field and start moving around a little bit.”
The contract, dramatic dip in production and scrutiny over his work ethic last winter braced Davis for the criticism headed his way as more position players filtered into the clubhouse. They aren’t due until Sunday, with the first full-squad workout held the following morning, but Davis is the lightning rod.
“I think the fact that you don’t have Adam (Jones), you don’t have Darren (O’Day), you don’t have guys that have been here over the years with me anymore, I think that there’s really no other place to look. And obviously, with the way that my season personally went last year, there’s going to be criticism and rightfully so. But as far as me being down here early enough or not getting here the day of report, I had a plan going into the offseason,” Davis said.
“There were a lot of things that I needed to address personally. Professionally there were just a lot of things that I needed to correct and really change and part of that was when I’m going to start coming down here, what my work load is going to look like, what kind of things I’m going to be doing, how I’m going to interact with these guys, getting to know a bunch of new, different faces. I didn’t plan on showing up here and getting sick, but that’s just the hand I was dealt. I’m going to make the best of it and take it in stride. And physically I still feel pretty good.
“Obviously, with being sick the last few days, I don’t feel 100 percent, but I don’t think all the work I’ve done in the offseason has just left me. I’m looking forward to getting out on the field and start moving around. Maybe start to put a hush to some of those concerns and questions.”
Davis said he prepped for the criticism ahead of time, working on his mental game as much as the physical components.
“There’s no doubt and I think, for me, last year going into the season I had such high expectations,” he said. “Not only personally but as far as the team was concerned I thought we were really in a good position to contend for the AL East and be a postseason team and obviously that was not the case at all. But the tone has changed a little bit with everything that went on last year.
“Obviously, with trading away a bunch of our players and bringing in some new guys and now having an entirely new staff, new front office, I think the expectations are still to succeed, but I think you also have to understand what lies ahead. And really the number of guys that we have here that really haven’t played a lot of big league baseball.
“There’s always going to be criticism, there’s always going to be scrutiny, and I think going it last year and really having to face it on a daily basis kind of showed me how to go about dealing with that and how to let the people around me kind of lean in with me and go through that with me and not try to shoulder it by myself.”
Any talk of Davis’ offseason work brings reminders that Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer blasted him on a MASN broadcast last year for failing to meet up with former hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh beyond a handful of sessions.
The skepticism is going to linger. Provide proof or be subjected to the doubters.
“It’s something I figured was always going to be around,” Davis said. “I think anytime you are successful at the highest level, when you’re going through tough times, when you’re struggling, there’s always going to be a voice questioning, ‘Did he work? Did he do this?’ I think that’s just kind of part of it.
“To me, the biggest thing that bothered me the way it was handled last year was I felt like, as far as our team was concerned, we were just kind of hanging on for dear life at the time and I think it really showed how disconnected and just how far apart we were in the clubhouse. That was frustrating to me because I didn’t want any of the guys in the clubhouse to feel like I wasn’t pulling my weight and I didn’t think that they had until that kind of came up.
“I think we weathered that storm as best we could and I’ve moved on. I think there are always going to be people that are going to criticize and question whether you did something or didn’t do something, but hopefully this year that’s not going to be an issue.”
Manager Brandon Hyde has spoken to Davis on a couple of occasions and is trying to send the message that the first baseman doesn’t need to press in order to impress.
“I just want him to be himself and I just want him to feel comfortable,” Hyde said. “I think the more comfortable I can get him, we can make him feel ...
“I want him to know he’s a big part of this team. He’s done a lot of great things for the city of Baltimore and I just want him to feel that. I want him to feel comfortable in his own skin and he’s going to relax and go perform. Those are conversations I’ve had with him and will continue to have.
Hyde said he hasn’t talked to Davis about having a bounceback year.
“It’s mainly been his comfort level and I want him to feel good about being on the field,” Hyde said. “I want him to feel like this camp is going to go well for him. But he’s done it before. He’s done a lot of really good things and I want him to feel like we’re behind him and supporting him.”
Does Davis need to prove his value to the new front office, manager and coaching staff? To his teammates - old and new?
“I think, for me, it would be more geared toward our fan base,” Davis replied. “The guys that see me day in and day out have a lot better feel for what’s going on than our fans do when they only get a little glimpse of us between 7 and 10 o’clock at night or whatever it is, wherever time the game is that day. But I don’t think there’s a whole lot to prove to the guys in the clubhouse.
“There are a lot of things I want to prove personally to everyone and maybe even a little bit to myself. But I don’t feel like the talent level or the respect level or even the past success is anything that comes into question in the clubhouse.”
Davis sounds like he’s excited to play for the new regime but he’s respectful of the predecessors who remained loyal to him through the most turbulent times.
“I think the pressure that I’ve always felt has been really self-inflicted,” he said. “I’ve always held myself to a really high standard, maybe in some people’s eyes an unrealistic standard at times. I think as far as having a new staff, having a new voice in the clubhouse, it was time for a change.
“I said it at FanFest. I was very appreciative and grateful for everything that Buck (Showalter) and Dan (Duquette) did here. We had a lot of good memories and a lot of good times that we can look back on. For the future, for the present, it was time for a change. I think it’s going to be good. I think it’s going to be good to hear a new set of pipes in the clubhouse, to see a little different landscape, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Davis repeated how he’s sought out different voices to critique his swing and his approach. How he’s open to new methods. How he’s willing to try just about anything to avoid another .168/.243/.296 slash line with 192 strikeouts in 522 plate appearances.
“A lot of the analytics, a lot of the sabermetrics, all the numbers that I was so reluctant to read into or even give any credit to over the years, have really proven to show me a lot of - I don’t know if you want to say holes - a lot of things in my swing that ... they just weren’t productive over the years,” Davis said.
“I think I got to the point last year where it was obvious that I needed to make a change and trying to do something like that midseason is so hard, but it was something that I really wanted to take full advantage of this offseason. I felt like I have. I didn’t go crazy. I’m not going to be wearing contraptions in the cage, be miked up or anything like that. There were definitely things that I learned about my swing, just about angles, things that I’ve done over the past few years that have helped me to be successful, but that I haven’t been able to do consistently, and I feel like I’m in a good place right now.
There’s no shortage of video equipment in camp for Davis to use. Not that he’s shied away from it in the past.
“I would go in the video room and look and see things that I mean just lined up, looked identical, frame-by-frame, but for whatever reason I just could never get a hold of the feel I was looking for and run with it,” he said.
“There would be one or two games where I would have a few hits and I felt like I was kind of on to something and then it would be another two-week spell where I couldn’t hit water if I fell out of a boat. I was kind of scratching my head. I know Cooley was doing the same thing. We were all kind of confused and didn’t really know how to go about it.
“I think hearing a few different voices this offseason and doing some things a little bit different, one, it helped me realize I wasn’t as far away as I thought I was, and two, that the player that was productive and successful in the past has not gone. He didn’t disappear. He’s still here, and I think as far as my swing is concerned, I feel that I’m that player right now.”
The proof will come after the games start more so than in workouts, which can be the great fooler.
“There were times last year when I could go into the cage, even during BP, and look like a completely different hitter. And then, once the game started, it was like, ‘What happened to that guy?’ ” Davis said. “So I think for me the biggest part is getting games in, trying not to miss any games like I did last spring. I know that was kind of out of my hands, but I think once the games start, that’s going to be really the telltale sign for me.
“One thing in particular, over the past few years, I’ve missed so many pitches, and I’m not talking about swinging and missing. I’m talking about fouling balls off, popping them up, just not driving pitches that are pitches that I do damage on. For me, I know that I’m not going to get a ton of chances during the course of a game to really do a lot of damage, so I need to take advantage of those opportunities when they come. And I think that’s really one of the things I’m looking forward to the most is to see that progress and see that change once the games start.”
Mark Trumbo takes his cuts in the batting cage at Orioles spring training.
Joey Rickard and Mike Yastrzemski head to a workout at the Ed Smith Stadium complex.