Chris Davis knows the expectations for him have lowered significantly compared to a few years ago. With right fielder Anthony Santander's bat emerging last summer, Trey Mancini healthy again and Ryan Mountcastle stepping up to the Majors, Davis is in a new position in his roller-coaster Orioles tenure: fighting for big league at-bats.
But Davis has always approached Spring Training as if he’s competing for a job, he told reporters Friday. How much he embraces that competition, and whether his sluggish bat can wake up the way it did briefly a year ago at this time, will say a lot about how often O’s fans will see him on the field in 2021.
“I’m going to push guys around me,” said Davis. “I’m going to push Trey and whoever else is over there at first, and they’re going to push me back. That’s how you find out who your best guys are. I have no doubt in my mind that we’re going to have the best nine out there, and you’re going to see a lot of familiar faces.”
It was just 12 months ago that, if only for a fleeting moment, Davis looked like the “Crush” of old. Exhibition games or not, he was seeing pitches and swinging free, finishing camp with a .409/.559/.909 slash line with three homers in Grapefruit League play and sparking hope that he could be on the verge of one of the great comeback seasons in recent times. That’s obviously not the way it turned out; the COVID-19 outbreak put everything on hiatus, and Davis struggled to a .115 average and one RBI across 16 games once the regular season finally got underway.
“Honestly, for me, 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 came into Spring Training in great shape, was really swinging the bat well and then everything stopped.”
Davis said he’s feeling great this spring as well, with his knees and lower half responding to offseason workouts and physical therapy back in Arlington, Texas, better than he anticipated. He says he’s also incorporated some new mechanical changes in his swing that will be “visible to the naked eye,” though he declined to give much more away until Spring Training games begin.
It’s undoubtedly been a struggle recently for Davis, who owns a .185 average and .615 OPS across his last 377 games in an Orioles uniform dating back to the start of 2017. Last summer’s pandemic-induced hiatus, and the way it halted his spring momentum, was yet another wrench thrown in, but Davis called it a “blessing in disguise” in how it offered him more time for introspection.
“It’s taken me several years to realize how much fun this game can be,” he said, “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, not to mention myself. I felt like I was letting our fans down. That was a big deal to me and took a lot out of me.
“But I think honestly the pandemic has helped me realize how much our fanbase has supported me,” Davis continued, “and how much I miss playing in front of our fans. I will continue to look at the brighter side of things and draw more positives out of the future.”
While the Orioles have hinted that Davis will play more of a reserve role than in any previous season of his seven-year, $161 million contract, manager Brandon Hyde stated that he will give Davis plenty of spring at-bats to try and change that. He praised the “team-first attitude” that Davis has brought to camp in recent years, and Davis -- who has previously raised questions about where the Orioles’ rebuild was heading -- acknowledged Friday that being a mentor to this up-and-coming Baltimore team is more toward the forefront of his focus now.
“I trust what [general manager] Mike Elias is doing,” he said, “what our ownership wants to do moving forward, and I think we have the guys in the clubhouse to turn this thing around. Do I know the timeframe on that? I don’t. But as long as I’m here, I’m going to do everything I can to pour myself into those guys, to be there for them, and give them an idea of what winning baseball was like in Baltimore -- and what it can be in the future.”
O’s on the radio
The Orioles announced Friday that 12 of their Spring Training games will be broadcast on the Orioles Radio Network and their flagship station 105.7 The Fan. The first radio broadcast will be Tuesday’s home matchup against the Yankees at 1:05 p.m. ET from Ed Smith Stadium. Games can also be streamed via the Gameday Audio platform on Orioles.com and the MLB app.
Galvis: We have to ‘come through like a family'
Both Davis and new shortstop Freddy Galvis acknowledged that mental health is a huge focus as players embark on a second year under the relative isolation involved with the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Both said they were lucky to have family support last year when their respective clubs were at home, but road trips are a different beast. Players are largely unable to go out and get away from baseball for a while.
Galvis said that is why it’s crucial that teams form bonds, beginning right now in camp, and act as a surrogate support system when family is not there on the road.
“It’s hard to be in a room watching TV and doing nothing, especially if you have a bad day on the field,” he said. “You can get some depression. The mental part is big right now, and we have to know how to take care of ourselves. We have to stay together like friends, like brothers, and come through like a family. That’s what I see so far here; everybody is talking and working hard. That’s one of the keys to get through this moment right now.”