Brewers' Davis getting taught tough lessons
MILWAUKEE -- Adjusting to the pitching at the big-league level is a tremendous challenge when a player is getting four at-bats a day.
Now imagine how difficult it is for a young player to come up and get an at-bat pinch hitting one day and maybe another one two days later. Just as with anything in life, there's a better chance of success with continuous repetition.
There's a reason so few players can thrive at the plate in a bench role and why the small number who can do the job well stick around the major leagues for so long.
Khris Davis, 25, not only is getting his first taste of the big leagues, but he is having to do it as Milwaukee's fifth outfielder.
"It's a tough job, toughest job in baseball," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "I don't think you know how the guy is going to handle it until he gets in that position and you give him enough at-bats to see if he's a guy that can handle it, especially being young. I haven't seen too many guys that are young that have done the job well.
"That was my job when I came to the big leagues, and I didn't do a very good job of it. It's too hard. You don't get enough at-bats."
So far Davis has had 12 plate appearances. Seven of the 12 came when he was pressed into starting in left field with Ryan Braun out with a neck strain and Arizona starting two left-handed pitchers -- making it hard for Roenicke to start the left-handed Logan Schafer.
Thus far he's 0-for-4 as a pinch hitter and 2-for-11 overall with five strikeouts. Davis -- a free swinger with pop in his bat -- has struggled to adapt to the limited role, but that was to be expected.
"It's baseball, you have to make adjustments and just go with it," he said. "Of course (it's difficult). That's why they call it a challenge."
A variety of factors forced Davis on to Milwaukee's Opening Day roster. A long shot to make the team when camp began, Davis put on a power display in spring training games, launching six home runs and hitting another in an exhibition game against Canada. He was on a tear for a good portion of the spring, but his batting average eventually fell to .262.
The power he flashed caused Davis to be considered for the final roster spot, but his cause was helped by the fact he was on the 40-man roster and his competition, first baseman/catcher Blake Lalli, was not. Adding Lalli would have required a corresponding roster move to clear a spot on the 40-man roster, and the Brewers weren't ready to move first baseman Corey Hart to the 60-day disabled list at the time.
"We needed another outfielder and right-handed bat," Roenicke said. "Going on, he needs to produce. And that's a lot of pressure to put on a young guy in this job. If you are a bench guy who is outstanding defensively, then you can take some of the offensive parts."
What hurts Davis is he's not fully developed on defense. Currently, he's only a left fielder and an average one at best. His throwing arm is a work in progress, limiting him from playing right field. Davis has been working in right field and improving, according to Roenicke, but not to a point where he's comfortable playing Davis there.
"When you think about our outfield, they are going to play most of the time," Roenicke said. "And if I rest somebody, it probably is going to be Schafer (filling in). How to get Davis at-bats is really difficult. How am I going to get this guy enough at-bats? That's the difficult part of the job."
Davis believes he can make the strides in the field to where he can eventually become an everyday player in the big leagues.
"I feel it every day," Davis said of his defensive progress. "I'm a ballplayer."
Though Roenicke knows how difficult of a spot Davis is in, he isn't going to throw him in to pinch hit if he has a better option more likely to help the team.
"Just depends on the different situations we put him in and how he performs," Roenicke said. "If he has a runner on third and less than two outs, is he able to just put the ball in play when he has two strikes or is he still swinging really hard and he punches out a lot? That will dictate to me how much I use him and where I use him."
The big swing finally connected last Saturday night against the Diamondbacks. Davis drove a 2-0 fastball from Patrick Corbin into the right-center field gap for a double and his first major league hit.
Teams take the ball from a player's first big-league hit and put it in a case with an official inscription and sticker authenticating the ball. When Davis arrived at his locker, he found the ball he thought to be the one from his first hit with "Chris Davis" and the wrong date sloppily written on it.
After some panic, Davis realized it was all an elaborate prank played on him by pitcher Kyle Lohse when Brewers clubhouse manager Tony Migliaccio gave him the real ball.
It's all part of the learning process for Davis.
"You just have to take it day by day, really, because it has its up and downs," Davis said. "I'm just grateful to be here."
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