Con­fi­dence is up for Davis

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - SPORTS - By Shayna Ru­bin

MESA, ARIZ. >> Khris Davis doesn’t want to think about 2019. He doesn’t want to talk about it, ei­ther. The new sea­son will bring a new KD; out of his own head and back to slug­ging 40-plus home runs as one of the game’s most pro­lific des­ig­nated hit­ters.

Need proof that Davis is feel­ing con­fi­dent? Con­sider who he pegged as the team’s player most likely to have a break­out year.

“Me,” Davis said af­ter a long pause. “I think I’m go­ing to break out and be back to what ev­ery­body wants ...

“Go­ing to hit .247 again.” Sar­casm lin­gered in the lat­ter half of his state­ment, but there’s an un­de­ni­able core of truth to Davis’ pre­dic­tion.

He’d lost his con­fi­dence in 2019, and those around him can see it com­ing back.

The 2019 Davis wasn’t the real Davis. He’s bet­ter than his .220 av­er­age, 27 home runs and .679 OPS. The Khris Davis that hit for

a .247 av­er­age four years in a row with 42, 43 and 48 home runs in his first three sea­sons with the A’s last year was just mired in spi­ral­ing self-doubt, trig­gered by a freak hip in­jury from a col­li­sion with an out­field fence in Pitts­burgh.

Davis was at the top of his game, and he had a long way to fall.

“Be­ing KD, and when things aren’t go­ing, that does some things to your psy­che,” for­mer as­sis­tant hit­ting coach and cur­rent first base coach Mike Al­drete said. “And it’s un­der­stand­able. But he’s had some time to re­flect and time to work to get him­self ready to go this year.”

If any­one knows Davis’ hit­ting psy­che best, it’s Al­drete.

Al­drete came to the A’s in 2015 as man­ager Bob Melvin’s third base and out­field coach, mov­ing into a role fo­cused on hit­ting a year af­ter Davis’ im­pact­ful ar­rival in Oak­land.

In Al­drete, Davis found a con­fi­dant.

“He’s al­ways avail­able, al­ways avail­able to work,” Davis said. “What­ever I need to make me feel com­fort­able.”

That meant Al­drete would as­sist in Davis’ some­what un­ortho­dox in-game rou­tine. Min­utes be­fore ev­ery one of Davis’ 1,000-plus at-bats, Davis and Al­drete would es­cape into the ball­park’s depths to the bat­ting cages and run a five-minute drill.

“He comes up (to him in the dugout) and says, ‘Aldo, let’s go,’” Al­drete said.

The quick rou­tine: Davis swings off a tee, hits a cou­ple of Al­drete’s tosses and then hud­dles in for a quick pep talk be­fore the two dis­cuss an ap­proach he might take against the pitcher he’ll face back up on the field. Davis then runs it by hit­ting coach Dar­ren Bush be­fore saun­ter­ing to the on­deck cir­cle.

“Four, five times a day dur­ing the games,” Al­drete said. “It was pretty much just me and KD be­fore ev­ery at bat.

“What he ended up do­ing is he felt like that rou­tine was part of his suc­cess. And I don’t dis­agree, we’re all crea­tures of habit. If I did this ev­ery time right be­fore I hit and I hit 48, I’m go­ing to do that again.”

By mid-sea­son last year, the rou­tine bore no re­sults. Davis went on a dis­mal stretch; that May 5 col­li­sion prompted a late-May IL stint. Af­ter his re­turn on June 1, Davis had a 20-game stretch in July in which he bat­ted .131 with zero home runs.

Davis started to wave Al­drete off, the pre-at bat meet­ings came to a brief halt. Davis’ con­fi­dence was at a low.

The drop off in pro­duc­tion looked alarm­ing from the out­side. Men­tally, he was in too deep to meet his bar.

“Es­pe­cially when ... who he is is power,” Al­drete, a for­mer out­fielder with seven big league teams, in­clud­ing the A’s and Giants, said. “Not to say I was any­where near him, but if I had a lit­tle ache or a pain, my sin­gle just wouldn’t go as far, and that’s OK. But when power is who you are, and you can’t pro­vide that, some­times you try to find it where you can’t and try to tin­ker. That’s not what it is.”

But Davis prides him­self on be­ing a team leader. One of the rare re­ceivers of a con­tract ex­ten­sion with the A’s (two years, $33.5 mil­lion signed last April), Davis was in­tent on find­ing a dif­fer­ent way to con­trib­ute. He started find­ing gaps, up­ping his av­er­age slightly and driv­ing runs in. Ev­ery step of the way his team­mates had his back, too — they knew the real Davis was in there. They never ex­pressed con­cern.

Al­drete’s new first base coach role with the A’s this year has him away from the bat­ting cages this year. (For­mer third base coach Matt Wil­liams moved on to a managing job in the Korean League, forc­ing a shift). But he still catches glimpses of Davis in the cage.

Through those peeks, Al­drete’s seen the health and, more im­por­tantly, con­fi­dence that es­caped Davis’ grasp last year.

“I’m not in the cage all the time, around the cage, but I do get time in the club­house, time in be­tween and it’s no­tice­able,” Al­drete said. “And I’ve been do­ing this long enough to know when some­one is fak­ing it or try­ing to con­vince them­selves, and his looks gen­uine.

“I think he’s ready to say, I’m break­ing out this year.”

Al­drete will man first base on the field when the A’s are up to bat this year, of course. He’ll miss out on their one-on-one time. Once back in his groove, slug­ging, Al­drete imag­ines Davis will mi­grate to­ward new as­sis­tant hit­ting coach Eric Martins for his five-time-agame rou­tine.

RANDY VAZQUEZ — BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

The A’s Khris Davis wears a glove on his head dur­ing spring train­ing at Lew Wolff Train­ing Com­plex in Mesa, Ariz., on Wednesday.

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