Brewers' Davis knows hits will come
In mid-May, Carlos Gomez made sure to find his teammate and outfield neighbor, Khris Davis, and offer some advice.
Though only two years older than Davis, Gomez had over 700 more games, six years and two other teams worth of experience than him.
"I've been through a lot of stuff, you know, early in my career," Gomez said with a smile. "So I know how to get in his mind to help it and relax and perform and then come here and be positive."
Davis needed it.
In his first 41 games of the year (38 starts), the man the Milwaukee Brewers moved Ryan Braun to right field for hit just .218 with a .250 on base percentage. There were some signs of life, though, as he slugged .391 with 16 of his 34 hits going for extra bases. He was also unlucky, with a below average .271 batting average of balls in play (BAbip).
Davis did strike out quite a bit as well (45 times) while walking just four times.
"We have a conversation, like myself and Khris the other day – a couple weeks ago when he was really struggling – I said, hey, continue to swing aggressive like you are and things are going to turn around because you know you are a good hitter," Gomez said. "That's what you have to keep in your mind – 'I'm a good hitter. This is going to turn around quick.'
"But the tough time is when you have to take care of yourself and find a way to turn it back to the good ways."
Manager Ron Roenicke offered his support, too, especially when it came to impressing on his young hitter that it is OK to alter your approach at plate, evoking the many different stances of Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr.
"I think you always have to make little adjustments during a season with your hitting and the guys that aren't able to make adjustments, they struggle a lot longer," Roenicke said.
Davis took it all in, and applied it – something began clicking in Atlanta from May 19-22. Beginning with a 1 for 4 showing on May 22, he caught fire, hitting. 388 over his next 13 games. He walked more often (9 percent of plate appearances) for a .444 OBP, and slugged .816 for a 1.261 on base plus slugging (OPS).
You could also argue that he got a little luckier, too, as Davis' BAbip skyrocketed to an above-average .378.
"He has made some changes and I can see it. And the results are great," Roenicke said. "Any time you have a guy change a little bit and you see the results it's always nice because they feel like somebody is helping them and when things go bad again they'll be more apt to listen."
That stretch included an impressive eight-game home stand from the end of May through the beginning of June in which he hit .448/.515/.862 with a 1.377 OPS with three homers and six RBI in just 33 plate appearances.
"I tell him, you see?," Gomez said. " I'm telling you man, continue to be aggressive and you're good."
Davis' early play and recent hot streak are probably the two extremes for the 26-year-old, who hit .279/.353/.596 with 11 home runs last year in 56 games, but being able to work himself out of that slump was an important step in his growth into an everyday player.
"It's more of a mentality I think now, as far as confidence wise now," Davis said. "I just found something I believe in and I'm going to hold on to it for as long as it works."
While the frequency of contact has fluctuated wildly this year, what Davis has proven is consistent power off right and left-handed pitchers. In 2013, he hit five homers off righties, six off lefties.
His first 10 roundtrippers of 2014 were split evenly.
"I know how to hit, that's what I love to do the most," Davis said. "As long as I keep loving it the game's going to love me back."
His metrics have been consistent as well. In his 56 games of last year he posted a 1.4 wins against replacement (WAR), and after 57 games this year he already has eclipsed that mark.
Perhaps more impressively, Davis didn't let his struggles on offense seep into the field – his defensive WAR was a -0.4 last year, while he is an above average 0.2 so far this year.
"I know when he's hot, he can do some big things," Roenicke said. "And that's – when we talked about it in the offseason, and (general manager) Doug (Melvin) talked about what the upside was with this guy was offensively and we're seeing it. We saw it last year. I know he started rough this year, but when he's hot like this, it's impressive. He's doing all the things you want an offensive guy to do now. He's taking those close pitches, he's waiting for a mistake, and he's not missing.".
"It was only a matter of time before I found something in my swing because it's a roller coaster of a ride," Davis added. "We all go through those struggles, but it just feels comfortable now."
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