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