Chris Davis: “I feel alive right now”

SARASOTA, Fla. - Chris Davis is going to be in today’s Orioles lineup for the home split-squad game, again wearing white uniform pants rather than the travel grays.

Along with a jersey that’s gotten much tighter around his biceps.

The red T-shirt that Davis slipped on after yesterday’s workout clung to him like a needy friend. His arms appeared to be plotting a jail break.

Davis put on 25 lbs. of “good weight,” as he described it upon reporting to camp. But how? And why?

What’s most important to Davis is the psychological impact of the muscle. It’s gone straight to his head.

This is more than a physical transformation, though that part is quite noticeable, too.

“Absolutely,” he said, “and it’s a big difference.”

The extreme makeover is done to return Davis to his previous form - physique and as a hitter.

“A lot of times for me, it’s hard to remember what I felt like or what was going through my head the first few years that I was here, but I always remember starting off spring training on a good note,” he said. “You’re not 100 percent comfortable in the box because it’s been so long, but at the same time, you’re still getting positive results and you can tell you’re not far away, and the last few years I did not feel like that.

“I felt like I was way too mental. I was thinking way too much about trying to control everything and take the veteran approach of making sure I was looking after my body. I felt like I was just too cautious and that’s just not who I am. That’s not the way I play the game, that’s not the way I felt like I’m supposed to play the game. And this year, that was a point of emphasis coming in. Let it fly.”

Davis said he weighed 212 lbs. by September, three fewer than during his senior year in high school. He focused a lot on nutrition after returning home, consulting with team executive chef Jenny Perez, and built a gym in his garage in order to conduct his own workouts.

Davis-HR-Swing-Black-Sidebar.jpgHit the weights hard before trying to square up a fastball, which led to the extra 25 lbs.

“A lot of it was just not having the stress of the season and just the physical activity on a daily basis of burning that many calories - going to the field, taking BP, taking ground balls,” he said. “We did a lot of work defensively last year. I mean, all the way until the very end, and once I got to a certain point with my weight, I felt like it was so down from where I usually am that I just couldn’t keep weight on. And plus, I was trying to get to the finish line, and so starting the new plan that Mike (Elias) and Hyder (Brandon Hyde) and I talked about, there were just a lot of variables that were kind of stacked against me. And once I was able to actually get home and take a deep breath and have somewhat of a consistent schedule, I just started from the ground up.

“Good nutrition, trying to get as many calories as I possibly can. And good ones. We have, in my opinion, the best food in the big leagues with Jenny, and I had several conversations with her before I left town about how I wanted to do this, because I didn’t just want to put a ton of weight on and put a bunch of junk weight on. There’s a difference between gaining weight and getting heavier.

“My weight was really, really low last year at the end of the season, lower than it had been in a long time. And when I say ‘stress,’ I want to emphasis that because there were a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of just moments where I found myself contemplating, considering a lot of things, and it just took a toll on my body. Also, I made a few adjustments just in my lifestyle that I think helped.

“My body right now does not feel anywhere close to how it’s felt the last few years and I say that in a good way. I felt like even a week into camp the last couple of years, I would already feel kind of tired and kind of run down, and this year I’m still working out and I’m still excited to work out and I feel like physically I just have way more left in the tank.”

Davis talked to his wife, Jill, about perhaps walking away from the game with three years left on his contract, but the heart-to-hearts ran much deeper.

“I don’t want the focus to just be on retirement. Just the future,” he said.

“As a competitor and as a person who holds himself to an extremely high standard, when you struggle for as long as I have, and not just for the length of time, but the kind of struggle ... The start of the season last year, I felt like I was in a good place and I ended up setting the record for games or most at-bats without a hit, and it wasn’t like I was punching out every game. It was like, ‘What is going on here?’ So it kind of forced me to step back and look at everything and say, ‘OK, what is the next step for me if this continues?’ And I’m sure that every player goes through it at some point in their career. Maybe not as early as I did.

“Honestly, it helped me realize how much I really enjoy baseball and how much I want to succeed. Not only for myself, but for so many other reasons. And feeling the way I do now, where I am now mentally as opposed to where I was at the end of the season are two completely different places and I feel alive right now and I feel like I’m in the fight and I’ve got a chance. A good chance, you know? Where I feel like there was just a lot of hope in the past.

“I don’t want people to get the wrong idea that I was sitting at home like, ‘Woe is me. My world is coming to an end.’ It was more just an assessment of where I was. And not only out of respect for myself and my family, but to my teammates, to our fans, to the city. I don’t want to just grind it out. That’s not who I am. I want to make an impact and I want to make an impact on the field. And I will.”

Davis has started one game this spring, walking twice and looping a single into left field in Sunday’s 11-5 win over the Braves. He made loud contact multiple times during a live batting practice session two days earlier, twice taking young left-hander Bruce Zimmermann to the opposite field.

“You get way more feedback, way more information, from a swing and miss than you do from just a bat sitting on your shoulder watching a ball go by. So I felt really good in the live BPs a lot earlier than I thought I would and then obviously (Sunday) I was pretty happy with that,” Davis said.

“I’ve made it a point in the live BPs to try to face lefties as much as I can because I know over the years, and especially last year, I haven’t faced as many lefties as I have in the past, but that’s kind of always been something that I’ve used as a tool to kind of get me going. Because as a left-handed hitter facing a left-handed pitcher, you can’t cheat. Mechanically, there are just some things you can’t do and be successful. You have to be as fundamentally sound as possible and it forces me to do that, so I was extremely happy with the at-bats.”

No one can predict whether Davis is going to be closer to the pre-contract version of himself or if the dramatic slide in production will simply gain momentum. But his head is in the right place. He’s feeling good about himself again.

Maybe that’s half the battle, or most of it. The reps and sweat in his garage improving his mind as well as a body that had become too lean and reduced his power and confidence.

“Absolutely, and it got me back to doing some of the things that I had gotten away from doing,” he said. “I’m talking specifically on the mental side of baseball. Jill and I were talking about it (Sunday) night, it’s crazy how quickly and how easily you get away from it when you’re not consciously practicing behaviors or strategies over and over and over, because you can go down the rabbit hole in a hurry and just get lost. And mine was more of a slow, methodical downward spiral.

“That was probably for me the biggest transformation this offseason. I trained myself because that’s what I’ve done for years and had success doing that. I thought I had to have this ... I don’t know what I was thinking, to be honest. I just thought I had to do something different because of Father Time and all that stuff, and there was a point where, it was right in the middle of a workout and I just realized like, ‘This is you. This is exactly who you are. You don’t need to go to some performance institute and have someone tell you ... This is who you are. You’re a blue-collar guy. You know how to do this. You know how to hold yourself accountable, motivate yourself, direct yourself, give yourself guidelines.’

“And a lot of the confidence that I had been lacking over the years I think was directly related to that. I hadn’t had that accountability within. I hadn’t had that responsibility or just the weight of, look, this is on your shoulders. And I can already see a difference. I can just see a difference when I walk into the clubhouse, the way I feel, the way ... I don’t know. I just feel different.”

Another pivotal moment for Davis came last summer with a return visit to OnBase University, an offshoot of the Titleist Performance Institute in California that studies a hitter’s movements. Davis met with Dr. Greg Rose, who specializes in sports biomechanics, strength and conditioning, manual therapy, rehabilitation and therapeutic exercises as they relate to sports.

Head athletic trainer Brian Ebel and strength and conditioning coach Joe Hogarty accompanied Davis, who managed the appointment while the club was on a West Coast trip to Anaheim and San Diego.

What they found out is that Davis is lacking range of motion in his left hip. He’s gone on the injured list with soreness, most recently in May 2019.

“Over time, the amount of twisting and turning that we do, it’s abnormal for our bodies, and your body is designed to protect itself,” Davis said, now sounding more like physician than therapist. “You build compensation or you build these patterns to where you start to lose range of motion. You start to lose the ability to fully utilize the strength in that muscle. That’s really what that (appointment) was all about.

“The information I got back from kinematic sequence - I’m so glad I remembered that. That’s my smart term - all the information that they were getting from these readouts, he’s sitting there and telling me, ‘There’s nothing wrong. Your power output, your torque, your force, all of that is off the charts.’ The problem that I was running into is I wasn’t able to utilize about 60 percent of that, so I was getting about 40 percent of the power that I was generating from the ground up because it was getting severed in my hips. It was getting cut off at my waist is basically what he said.

“My hip was so tight that I wasn’t able to transfer that properly. Once I understood what the problem was, it was a lot easier to find the solution. If you don’t know what you’re trying to fix, it’s kind of hard to fix it, and that was part of the little workout plan that Elias and Hyder and I talked about. How are we going to go about strengthening these things, how do you want to do some of this stuff?

“I feel physically right now a lot better than I have in years and I feel like that shows.”

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