Davis back to his old ways

ROUND ROCK, Texas – After a solid spring, third baseman Chris Davis is off to another fast start in Triple-A, going 9-for-21 with six extra-base hits. Lone Star Dugout caught up with Davis after he slugged three home runs in a recent game.

Chris Davis is looking to rediscover the swing that led to his breakout 2007 and 2008 campaigns. When the slugger reached Arlington in '08, he posted an impressive .285/.331/.549 slash line in 80 contests.

Davis' big league struggles in the subsequent two seasons have been well documented. In 45 games last year, he batted .192 with a punchless .292 slugging percentage.

The native Texan spent the majority of 2010 in the minor leagues, but he got a September call-up after the Triple-A season ended. And due to the presence of Mitch Moreland and Jorge Cantu, he mostly rode the pine, getting just 19 official at-bats in the month.

But even while Davis was sitting on the big league bench, he was putting an eye toward reverting back to the swing mechanics that made him successful in 2007 and 2008. While the mechanics themselves aren't drastically different from what he used in the last two seasons––as he explains in the following interview––Davis says he feels more comfortable and free at the plate in his old set-up.

After the Rangers' World Series run came to a close, Davis traveled to the Dominican Republic in order to play winterball with the Estrellas Orientales. There, Davis worked on his swing and batted .279 with six doubles and six home runs in 25 games.

He showed positive signs of development with the big club this spring, hitting .362 (21-for-58) with seven doubles and five round-trippers.

Unfortunately for Davis, the Rangers didn't have any room for him on the opening day roster, despite the excellent performance in camp. So he returned to Triple-A.

The 25-year-old is no stranger to Triple-A pitching. Between 2008 and 2011, Davis has logged a staggering .331/.396/.564 slash line in the Pacific Coast League. Pure talent is hardly an issue for Davis, who flashes plus-plus raw power.

The pop was on display against the Iowa Cubs on Saturday night, when he belted three tape-measure home runs––one to right-center, one opposite-field shot to straight-away left, and one on top of the batting cage in dead center field.

Through five games with Triple-A Round Rock, Davis has walked once and whiffed eight times. But he is also 9-for-21 (.429) with two doubles, four homers, and 11 runs batted in.

There's still plenty of debate as to whether Davis' talent and minor league successes will ultimately carry over into major league results. However, Davis is leaving little doubt about his defensive prowess and versatility––an asset that could either help his trade value or eventually land him an increased role with the Rangers.

When Davis was drafted by Texas in 2006, he was regarded as a slugger with plus arm strength but no true position. The club tried him out at first base, third base, and in left field. He eventually settled in at first, where he developed into an above-average defender with time.

Davis is now getting everyday reps at third base, where he hasn't really played full-time since 2007. And after dropping some weight in the offseason, the 6-foot-3 infielder looks much better at the hot corner.

Not only has Davis improved his lateral quickness and range, but he also looks comfortable at the position. He has shown soft hands and a plus arm. Davis appears to be at least an average defensive player at third base, if not better.

With Adrian Beltre and Michael Young at third base along with a trio of players (Moreland, Napoli, Young) at first, it would likely take an injury for Davis to get another look in Arlington.

Davis will certainly get another opportunity in the majors. The question is whether or not his next chance will be in a Rangers uniform.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with the left-handed hitting slugger after a recent game to discuss his work at the plate as well as his improvement in the field.

Jason Cole: You had three home runs tonight––talk about your game today.

Chris Davis: I was able to get some good pitches early in the at-bats. I felt like, the last couple days, they've been doing a good job of getting ahead of me and being real aggressive. I've missed my share of pitches in the zone. Tonight, I was able to get to them early and really put some good swings on some pitches out over the plate.

You can't say enough for how well we swung the bats tonight. The first two nights, they came out and they were aggressive and put a lot of runs on the board. They put a lot of pressure on us. Tonight, we were in the driver's seat almost the whole game. It was big for us to get this win.

Cole: It seems like you're building upon a strong spring training. Can you talk about your performance in big league camp this spring?

Davis: I think a lot of it stems back from winterball. I went down there with a certain thing on my mind––a few things I wanted to work on. I was able to go down there and kind of get away from everybody and rely on myself. I wanted to get back to building my confidence and being more self-sufficient.

I had a good spring. I really thought that I put myself in a position to succeed. I didn't end up where I wanted to be, but I'm where I'm supposed to be. I'm going to continue to work hard and try to get back to the big leagues, whether it's with the Rangers or somebody else.

Cole: What are some of those things that you were working on in the Dominican Republic over the offseason?

Davis: I just went back to what I was doing in 2007 and 2008––the way I was standing, my setup, and what I was most comfortable with. I think it was hard for awhile because I was trying to change and do a lot of things that I thought people wanted me to do. I really forgot what made me successful and what I did best.

It was good to get down there and kind of work on myself. It was good to put those things in play, not only in BP but also in games. It has paid off for me. I can't say enough about the guys that have helped me along the way. Obviously God has put me in a good position to succeed, and I'm just trying to continue it every day and build off the success I've had.

Cole: How long did it take before you felt comfortable in reverting back to your old setup?

Davis: It took a few games. I was able to do it a little bit at the end of the season, when I was up in September. I started feeling a little bit better. But I would say the first few weeks in winterball, I really felt comfortable. I really felt at home, so to speak. And going into spring training, it just kind of snowballed from there. The first couple games, I felt like I was a little bit in-between on my timing, but tonight I obviously felt pretty good. I'm just glad to be back doing what I know I'm capable of doing.

Cole: How much different are the mechanics and setup? How much did you have to change?

Davis: It's really not a lot. It's just a little more upright. I feel like my hands are a lot freer. I'm a power hitter. I'm going to swing and miss––that's part of it. But when I do put a good swing on the ball, most of the time good things are happening.

I'm not going to be a guy that's going to go out there and have two strikeouts to every walk. I'm going to strikeout a lot. That's who I am. I think one of the biggest things was coming to terms with that. It was thinking that it's okay to strikeout 150 times if you're still hitting over .300 and driving in runs.

Cole: I also want to talk about your defense at third base, because it seems it has really improved over the last year. What has been behind that development?

Davis: I think one of the biggest things is what Dave Anderson brought to my attention in spring training. He said what made me such a good first baseman was my aggressiveness. I was really aggressive, and I really attacked the ball.

It almost kind of worked against me at third. There were a lot of balls that were hit right at me that I didn't have to attack necessarily. And that's something he brought to my attention. It has really proven to be the determining factor in whether I'm going to catch the ball right at me or not.

I think sometimes I can be a little too aggressive. But the more I play over there, the more I learn angles, learn where I can and can't go, and learn the hops and what I need to do. The more games I get over there, the better I feel.

Cole: You've played a little bit of third base the last few years, haven't you?

Davis: Yeah. When Mike was injured, with his finger, I bounced back and forth. But last year, I played third almost every day down here. I think that was really a turning point for me––helping me get my confidence. And it's not necessarily confidence. It's just getting the routine and the footwork down. It is two different positions that are opposite of each other in the infield, but there are a lot of similarities with the two.

Cole: When you initially began getting regular reps at third last year, did it feel comfortable at all?

Davis: It felt backwards. It's funny to say that, but it really felt backwards. And there were a lot of balls that were hit right at me that, at first base, you can just chest up and knock down. You don't have to worry about throwing them. For whatever reason, I felt like I had to get around them and put myself into a position to throw.

It's kind of the same mindset. But they don't call it the hot corner for no reason. There are a lot of balls that are hit right at you that you've just got to wear and do what you can with them.

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