ARLINGTON — Calling Chris Davis’ 2018 season one to forget is a huge understatement.
In 128 games for Baltimore, Davis, a Navarro product, hit .168 with 16 home runs and 49 RBI, all career-lows. He also finished with a -2.8 WAR, down from a career-best 6.5 WAR in 2013, when he hit 53 homers and drove in 138 runs for the Orioles.
Davis, 33, was widely criticized for his struggles while pocketing $23 million, year three of a seven-year extension signed in 2016. But the ex-Bulldog took that criticism in stride.
“Yeah, obviously it was frustrating, taxing, discouraging to say the least. But when I sat down this off-season and really thought about what took place and how I handled everything, I was really proud of the fact that I never gave in,” Davis said in Arlington recently. “I feel like I didn’t take the ‘woe is me’ attitude and start feeling sorry for myself, but I just really tried to do whatever I could each and every day to give myself the best chance to succeed. Obviously, it didn’t work out.”
One thing which kept him going was a strong support network, a group including friends, family, teammates and members of the Orioles staff. Davis remains grateful for their encouragement throughout a tough campaign for him and for Baltimore, who lost 115 games last season to earn the top pick in this June’s amateur draft.
An additional member of Davis’ support network is now-former Navarro head coach Skip Johnson, who the former American League All-Star remains close with. “I wouldn’t be here (in the majors without Navarro), that’s for sure. That’s one of the reasons that Skip and I are still as close as we are,” he said. “We talk throughout the year. He’s kind of like another dad for me. He’s meant a lot to me not only as a baseball player, but as a man. He gave me an opportunity and did a lot of things to make sure that I was well taken care of. I’m forever grateful for that.”
The opening months of 2019 have brought more adversity for Davis in further offensive struggles and a recent stay on the Injured List with a lower back/hip issue. He returned to action in Arlington against the Rangers and in the June 6 series finale played outfield for the first time since 2016.
“Now I’m back out there trying to get into a rhythm, get back in the groove. (On the IL is) never where you want to be, but it’s a long season and you’ve got to do everything you can to try to take care of your body and give yourself a chance to go out there and play every day,” Davis said.
O’s infielder Trey Mancini has been teammates with Davis since 2016, and the CD he saw then and the version he sees now are pretty much identical. “Yeah, he hasn’t changed a bit. He does a really good job of not wearing his emotions on his sleeve too much,” Mancini said. “He’s still the same guy, still a good leader and somebody that the younger guys can look up to on the team for sure.”
One big change for Davis this season, who came to Baltimore in a 2011 trade with Texas, is that for the first time as an Oriole, he’s not playing for longtime manager Buck Showalter, whose contract wasn’t renewed after last season. Brandon Hyde is the new skipper and the rookie manager is quite pleased to have a seasoned veteran like Davis around, who can produce on the field and provide veteran leadership in the clubhouse.
“Obviously, he had early struggles. Went through a lot the first weeks of the season,” Hyde said. “How he was in the clubhouse and what he did for us defensively and the kind of person he was just being was just fantastic. That’s why everybody was pulling for him. They saw the work this guy was putting in, was leading by example. Playing great defense for us all year. Even through the tough offensive times and the tough games and a lot of people talking about it, etc., he wasn’t taking it out to the field. He wasn’t taking anything into the clubhouse where he was a black cloud. He was the same guy every single day, still is. That’s really commendable. Give him a lot of credit for that.”
Stephen Hunt is a Frisco-based freelance writer.