Chris Davis must get used to a new role on the Orioles. He must prove that he deserves to play.
Over the winter, manager Brandon Hyde and executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias indicated that would be the case, and nearing his 35th birthday, Davis said he understands and welcomes the challenge.
“Every year of my career, I approached spring training to compete for at-bats,” Davis said in a video conference call from spring training in Sarasota, Florida. “That’s really how I think any player should approach it because if you come in thinking it’s your job and you don’t have to do anything, you’re not doing yourself or anybody in the clubhouse any favors. That’s the way I approached this offseason and this coming spring training, I’m going to do the same.
“I’m going to push guys around me. I’m going to push Trey [Mancini] at first, whoever else is over there, and they’re going to push me back. That’s how you’re going to find out who your best guys are, and I have no doubt that we’re going to have the best nine out there, and we’re going to have a lot of familiar faces.”
Davis, who is entering the sixth year of a seven-year, $161 million contract, said he has made adjustments to his swing after years of abysmal numbers. He has spoken with Hyde about playing time this spring.
“I think he’s going to play quite a bit,” Hyde said. “I’m going to give him as many at-bats as I possibly can. I’m going to treat him like everybody else and play him as much as possible and get him to feel comfortable going into the season.”
Last year, Davis played just 16 games and had two stints on the 10-day injured list because of tendinitis in his left knee. He hit .115 (6-for-52) with an RBI. It followed two awful seasons at the plate; in 2018, he hit .168 and in 2109, he hit .179. With Mancini returning after missing last season because of colon cancer surgery, he’s expected to be the starting first baseman.
“I did a lot of work this offseason with a physical therapist in Arlington, Texas at Dr. Keith Meister’s institute, and I feel really good,” Davis said. “Definitely not any younger, but my legs feel better than I thought they would.”
In December, Davis questioned the direction of a club that is rebuilding.
“I think the questions that I had have been answered here the first few days,” Davis said. “I trust what Mike is doing. I trust what our ownership wants to do going forward, and I think we have the guys in the clubhouse to turn this thing around. Do I know the time frame of that? I don’t, but I know that as long as I’m here, I’m going to do everything that I can … to be there for those guys and give them an idea of what winning baseball was like in Baltimore, and what it can be like in the future.”
Davis said he has made mechanical changes to his swing in the offseason but declined to give specifics.
“I did some things differently,” he said. “You’ll see it. It will be visible to the naked eye. I’m excited about it. There are a lot of positive things going on around here, and I feel like I have done substantial work to really step outside my comfort zone and change some things mechanically. Physically change how I’m approaching my at-bats.
“It’s going to be weird. It’s going to be uncomfortable. I think it’s overdue, to say the least.”
Davis acknowledged that he’s considered changing his approach before.
“I felt early on in my career, and early on in my contract, that I was being paid to produce runs. I was being paid to be the guy to drive in the runs. I was not being paid to lay the bunts down and steal bases. That dynamic changed really quickly.”
In the first five games of the 2018 season, former manager Buck Showalter led Davis off to see if that could spark him. He had just one hit in 20 at-bats (.050).
“I was trying to do something a little bit different and a little bit dynamic,” Davis said. “It’s just not who I am.”
In last year’s abbreviated spring training, Davis hit .409 (9-for-22) with three home runs and nine RBIs. He came in bigger and stronger but then there was a four-month delay because of Covid-19. Davis couldn’t replicate what he had done in the spring.
“Last spring was an eye-opener,” Davis said. “It was, ‘OK, I can still do this.’ I was frustrated with the way things played out last season, to say the least. I felt like I came into spring training in great shape. I was really swinging the bat well, and then everything stopped, but I also understand that we did get a chance to play some games, and there were a lot of things bigger than baseball going on.”
Davis said he’s still enjoying baseball.
“I am having fun,” he said. “It’s taken me several years to realize how much fun this game can be because I was so hard on myself because I expected so much out of myself. I felt like I let a lot of people down.
“I felt like I was letting our fans down. That was a big deal to me. It took a lot out of me. The pandemic has helped me realize how much our fan base has supported me, how much I miss playing in front of our fans.”