Baltimore Orioles struggling hitter Chris Davis talks about how gaining weight is part of his plan to gain strength and improve his hitting
Long-struggling Orioles first baseman Chris Davis acknowledged Monday that he discussed the possibility of retirement with his wife last fall, but instead decided to bulk up and make one more attempt to reemerge as the dominant slugger who won two major league home run titles.
“I know what I’m capable of," Davis said upon his arrival for the Orioles’ first full-squad workout of the spring. “I know what I expect of myself and I don’t want to continue to just struggle and be a below-average, well-below-average producer at the plate.
“And I don’t think that’s fair to these guys, and I don’t think, honestly, it’s fair to our fans or to anybody that’s associated with Baltimore. But I still think that there is something left in the tank and I think that that’s really a conversation that we’re going to have to have at the end of this season.”
Davis has three years remaining on the club-record $161 million contract he signed after the 2015 season, with a total of $93 million still to be paid by the club if he completes the deal. That includes $24 million in deferred salary that he already has earned, leaving $69 million dependent on how long he continues to play.
If it’s hard to imagine anyone walking away from that much money, it’s important to consider the emotional toll the past few years have taken on Davis, whose confidence reached such a low point a couple of years ago that he took two weeks off to work with Brady Anderson and get his head together.
“That was probably, for me, the lowest point because I felt like I didn’t really know where to go," he said. “I felt like last year was tough, obviously getting off to the start I got off to but a lot of that was out of my control.
Obviously, he was unable to maintain that momentum, finishing the season playing part time and batting below .180 for the second straight year. His batting average since signing the giant contract is just .198.
With the Orioles in the midst of a sweeping rebuilding project and promising first base prospect Ryan Mountcastle ready to pop, Davis’ playing time figures to be a significant issue again this year unless he gets off to a strong start and is able to defend his place in the starting lineup throughout the summer.
He said that he’ll do whatever is asked of him, but isn’t ready to concede that his days as an everyday player might be behind him.
“It’s hard to say yes right now," Davis said. “Anything I’ve been asked to do, I felt like I’ve always been good about it and handled it in a very professional manner. Right now, I want to be an everyday player. I consider myself an everyday player. I think it’s the case until it’s proven otherwise.”
To that end, Davis said he embarked late last season on an intense program to add 25 pounds and, he hopes, restore the Bunyonesque strength that he so easily displayed during his first five full seasons in Baltimore.
“I thought he looked great,” manager Brandon Hyde said after the workout. “He came to camp in great shape, took a nice BP out there in the stadium and the ball really came off his bat. So, I loved the way he came in. I talked to him quite a bit this offseason, so I knew he had been working really hard in the gym and the weight room and he looked great today.”
The extra muscle apparently is important for more reasons than the most obvious, since Davis conflates it with the swagger he lost as his performance dramatically declined over the past four seasons.
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“There’s no doubt about it," he said. “I think anytime that I feel like I can drive the ball out of the ballpark at any point in time, that knowledge has given me a confidence boost, but it allows me to go out there and take an easy swing. And when I start trying to gear up and overpower the baseball, it’s when I start getting out of rhythm and kind of getting out of whack and that has always worked against me. So, I think the more physically fit I’m gonna be, the better off I’m gonna be.”
Last season ended with the perception that Davis and the team had worked out an offseason plan aimed at altering his approach at the plate and cutting down on strikeouts, but Davis said on a radio show last month that he resisted any “drastic” changes in his hitting mechanics. Though that was interpreted by some as an inexplicable resistance to change, Davis clarified the comment Monday.
“I was referring to the mechanics of my swing and I think that was something that everybody was kind of curious about was, ‘Are you going to do anything drastic in the box?’ And the answer is ‘no,’" Davis said. “I’m not going to crouch down in my legs. I’m not going to spread out and hit like Albert Pujols. I hit the way that I hit.
“I think a lot of the deficiencies over the past few years have been due to strength. I mean, seeing some of the balls that I’ve hit either be caught at the warning track or at the wall or not even get to the warning track, I think just getting my strength up and being in a better physical position is going to help me with that.”
Instead, Davis spent part of the offseason working with close friend and former Orioles teammate Craig Gentry. He said he hopes that the work he did and the bulk he added will allow him to show some results this spring.
“I want to kind of quiet some of the voices," Davis said, “I felt like it had gotten a little out of control with whose advice I was going take and what I was going to try and do. The blueprint for success is there, but I think it is up to me to follow that and to really take accountability for what I’m doing and for who I’m listening to. So, it was good. It was a very productive offseason and I think he [Gentry] might actually be more excited for the season to start than I am, which is kind of fun.”