To hear Orioles first baseman Chris Davis tell it, everything went wrong in 2018 — his health, his mindset, his confidence and the team's fortunes. What that leaves is an uneasy balance between the high-paid slugger with four years left on his contract and a new coaching staff facing many challenges in 2019: What does anyone do to fix it?
"I just kind of took a deep breath and there was so much that went on away from baseball, having to deal with just failure on a constant basis, unmet expectations — and this is all personally — that I think by the time the season ended, I was just so tired that I was ready to turn the page," Davis said. "And I had a lot of work to do so there wasn't a whole lot of time for me to sit back and feel sorry for myself. I wanted to explore a lot of options as far as my offense was concerned, my nutrition and training, and I felt like the clock was ticking."
There was a lack of specifics to it all. He said he's been working on taking care of his body better as he gets older and has been told he looks lighter, though he also doesn't feel like he's physically diminished from his prime. He said he went back to meet with coaches from his time in the Texas Rangers' minor league system who he hasn't seen in a decade, though he had that arrangement in Baltimore with former hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh for years.
Just before saying last year started out as a physical problem — he had an elbow issue in spring training that wasn't spoken of again — Davis said the main gap last year was "really the mentality, and I know that's kind of vague, but I was searching for a certain feeling, something that I just have done all my life, something I feel like I had my whole life that I for some reason had lost touch with it over the past couple of years."
His response to all that was an overhaul, Davis said.
"I made a lot of changes this offseason," he said. "I saw a lot of different people, people that I hadn't seen in a decade but that knew me in a younger age when I was in the Rangers' minor league system, and I feel like it just kind of opened me up. I think going through last season, going through that stretch of just failure, day-in and day-out, really got me to the point where I was like, 'OK, now we need to exhaust all options and really take a step back and make an adjustment.' I don't feel like I'm an old man. I don't feel like I've lost a step. Maybe down the first-base line. But other than that, I honestly feel great."
Compared with this time last year, when Davis said he felt good, he said he feels even better. But absent specifics, it seems the baseline for any kind of improvement off one of the worst seasons in baseball history comes with his mindset. The new coaching staff has set out to determine that first before getting to the real business of fixing a swing that hasn't produced in years.
"You get to know them," new hitting coach Don Long said. "I ask a lot of questions initially. I want to see where guys are at. I can watch video, but I want to know ... the thought usually drives the process. Whatever's going on in their mind and what their thoughts are is going to come out physically. It's getting to know them, building a relationship and trust where you can have open and honest conversation with all these guys is priority No. 1 for me. Very, very important."
Manager Brandon Hyde said he thinks they're "off to a great start" in terms of building a relationship.
"I think he's going to know we're going to be behind him 100 percent, and I want to give him every opportunity to give him the years that he's had in the past," Hyde said. "People ask me about bounce-back. I think bounce-back is real. You just don't have the years that he had by chance. There's obviously something in there, something to tap into. I know he's hungry and ready to start the year.
"I think there's all sorts of things, why guys go into tough moments. I don't know his personal — I haven't dug in that deep to be honest with you. But whether it's confidence or whatever it may be, I think there's all sorts of reasons why players go through tough times, and I think that's not abnormal that guys have tough years, but we're obviously looking forward to Chris bouncing back and having a good year this year."