Davis' complete skill set emerging for Mets

August 9th, 2020

NEW YORK -- The parts are all clicking now. Not that J.D. Davis was unsuccessful before; to the contrary, he was a breakout star of the 2019 Mets and an important piece of their 2020 jigsaw puzzle.

Now, however, Davis is evolving into a more complete player, capable of adding value not just with timely power, but consistent hitting and defensive work as well. Davis demonstrated all of those elements Saturday in the Mets’ 8-4 win over the Marlins at Citi Field, providing a key three-run homer to highlight his banner day.

“I just try to learn from what I’ve experienced from the last year,” Davis said. “I don’t really try to elevate my game. I don’t try to have that sense of urgency. I think I’m a little bit comfortable up there just because of the past success and the past failures that I’ve learned from.”

Davis’ most significant contribution Saturday did not occur until the seventh inning, when he clubbed a three-run homer off Marlins reliever Josh A. Smith into the home bullpen in right-center. For the Mets, the 401-foot shot made everything easier, transforming a one-run lead into a four-run advantage. Rather than use relief ace Seth Lugo for a six-out save, they spread the work around to keep everyone fresh. Rather than sweat a victory for rookie David Peterson, who pitched five effective innings to further solidify his rotation spot, they relaxed as Justin Wilson recorded the final three outs.

Yet the homer was far from Davis’ only contribution. Teammate Michael Conforto, who along with Pete Alonso also homered, noted that Davis’ fifth-inning sacrifice fly was also impactful. So was Davis’ third-inning single, which ran his career-best hitting streak to 12 -- one behind San Francisco’s Donovan Solano for the Major League lead.

“This kid is so disciplined with his approach,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “That’s kind of his No. 1 thing along with his ability to hit. This kid does a lot of homework.”

Asked if his current hot stretch at the plate -- Davis is batting .366 over the life of his hitting streak -- is in any way related to his newfound comfort on defense, Davis demurred. He admits, however, that there is a certain luxury in playing one’s natural position again.

Defensively, Davis has always considered himself strongest at third base. The Mets’ outfield injury issues early last summer prompted them to try Davis in left, after giving him zero reps there during Spring Training. While the experiment gave the Mets a way to keep Davis’ bat in the lineup, it didn’t produce a strong defensive player. Nor did continued exposure to left field help.

Mostly due to inertia, the Mets entered this season with Jeff McNeil slated to play third base and Davis set to play left, rather than the other way around. It seemed counterintuitive; though McNeil is also a natural infielder, he is athletic enough to play just about anywhere on the diamond. Davis, meanwhile, said often that he felt most comfortable at third.

It was not until Robinson Canó landed on the injured list earlier this week that the Mets finally switched up the alignment, shifting McNeil to left and Davis to third. And it worked. Immediately. In his second game at his old position, Davis made a diving stop to his right, then, from one knee, threw to first to rob the Nationals’ Eric Thames of a hit. On Saturday, Davis fielded a Francisco Cervelli grounder inches from the foul line in shallow left field, turned and -- offering shades of his career as a college closer at Cal State Fullerton -- threw a 76 mph strike to Dominic Smith for the out.

“J.D. has shown really good athleticism at third,” Rojas said, noting that the Mets will likely stick with that defensive alignment going forward. “Obviously, his arm is always going to play there. His throws have been money.”

If Davis continues to become a more well-rounded player, the Mets will be better for it. He’s going to be in their lineup nearly every day regardless, given the offensive power he can provide -- his late homer off Smith providing just the latest example.

“He sits on a pitch and he gets it, and you know he can do some damage,” Rojas said. “That at-bat there with the three-run homer that gave us some breathing room later in the game, it was exactly that.”