Spring Training exhibition games started just four days ago, yet the amount of unexpected headlines within Major League Baseball this week has been nothing short of bewildering.
36-year-old Ubaldo Jimenez remains on the comeback trail and is set to make his first start since 2017 with the Colorado Rockies later today, while yesterday the often criticized football-turned-baseball pro Tim Tebow hit his first spring home run, with an opposite field blast against the Tigers’ widely respected reliever, Alex Wilson.
As unlikely a headline as those two may have been though, the headline which has really sparked conversation this week has been the early-spring form of Orioles slugger, Chris Davis.
It’s no secret that Davis has been in the headlines a lot these past four years, however rarely has it been for anything of a positive nature. Since inking that 7-year, $161 million deal with the Orioles before the start of the 2016 season, his production has been horrendous, with 745 strikeouts (41.4% of at bats), a .679 OPS, and a -0.5 bWAR over four seasons.
Things had gotten so bad that by the time the 2019 season had come to an end, Davis had set a record-breaking 0-for-54 hitless streak, his value-add was the worst in baseball, he had found himself in an ugly dugout altercation with Orioles manager Brandon Hyde, and his role on the team was little more than a part-time player. Things really couldn’t have looked any worse and had it not been for the $69 million still owed to the once two-time MLB home run leader, he probably would have been given his marching orders. It’s still quite amazing to pause and reflect on his frustrating journey, having gone from one of the most feared hitters in baseball, to quite literally one of the worst.
Despite all the struggles of recent years, Davis’ attitude has been second-to-none. He’s never looked to place blame on others and he’s always maintained the belief (at least publicly) that he will one day regain the confidence and success he once enjoyed. Off the field too, he’s been full of kindness and generosity, remaining friendly with a fanbase that appears stuck in limbo between loving and loathing the big man, and also donating a lot of his time and wealth to those far less fortunate than he is. Having spent some time with him in the Orioles clubhouse a few years ago, there is absolutely no doubt he is one of the nicer guys in baseball and for that, it’s hard not to wish him anything but success.
Wishing Davis success is becoming an increasingly familiar theme too, and it’s not only Orioles fans who are doing so. With the rebuilding Orioles set for at least three more years of lacklustre results, it’s hard to think his individual success will come at a significant expense to any other team. Only today I was reading on Twitter comments from Yankees and Red Sox fans (among others) who hope to see him rebound and put up solid numbers in 2020. With the threat of the Orioles all but non-existent, baseball fans just want to see one of baseball’s good guys succeed.
So far, things are certainly looking up for Davis, who has enjoyed a wonderful start to his 2020 Spring Training campaign, with five plate appearances resulting in five times reaching base – three walks and two hits. Importantly, this included a home run on Tuesday that looked like Chris Davis circa 2013, a seemingly effortless opposite field push which sailed into the Ed Smith Stadium seats, much to the delight of Orioles fans.
While it may be just two hits and three walks early in spring, Davis’ approach at the plate looks far more settled than it has in recent years. In his first at bat of the exhibition season on Sunday against the Red Sox, he battled back from 0-2 down in the count to draw an 8-pitch walk. Included within this was a series of very close takes which helped turn the count back in his favor, suggesting he’s locked in and well aware of the strike zone, something which has plagued him in recent years.
Not only have the results through Davis’ first two games been encouraging, he has been quite vocal in recent weeks since arriving for camp in Sarasota, speaking of a winter where he focused on clearing his head, eating well, hitting the gym and putting on 25 pounds of “good weight”. He’s sung the praises of Orioles fitness staff and dietitians, and in his own words, he feels like his old self again. Whether or not this amounts to success in the regular season remains to be seen, however for the last four years all Orioles fans have held on to is a glimmer of hope – hope that one day Chris Davis will return to the Crush Davis of old. We’ve seen this week how that hope, albeit still just a glimmer, certainly lives on…