Chris Davis welcomes opportunity
Adrian Beltre's replacement hasn't been able to translate success from minors to majors
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Chris Davis sure didn't seem out of place in the Rangers' clubhouse, outside of the fact that he was putting on his uniform beside C.J. Wilson along the same wall with the pitchers.
The 25-year-old Longview, Texas, native walked in Saturday and found his name on the lineup card hitting eighth as the third baseman charged with filling in for Adrian Beltre, the club's RBI leader and a vacuum cleaner on the hot corner.
Davis didn't look intimidated. His RBI single in the fourth put the Rangers ahead at the time and he finished 1-for-3. He knows this is perhaps his final opportunity to show the Rangers he can handle major league pitching. Or maybe it's one last chance to show scouts from other teams that he's a worthy trade candidate, though his value to the Rangers went up as soon as Beltre limped into third base Friday.
"This is my opportunity for me to make my mark in this league and I'm going to take every opportunity I can to do that," Davis said.
Davis knows the score. He's been given numerous chances the past few seasons and hasn't been able to stay in the big leagues. Beltre's injury gives him a chance he might not have otherwise received with Texas.
He returns after pounding the ball in Triple-A, something he's done consistently throughout his career. Davis was batting .368 with 24 homers and 66 RBIs in 48 games at Round Rock. He was four homers shy of the Pacific Coast League lead despite appearing in less than half of the club's games.
Manager Ron Washington said he plans on using both Davis and Michael Young, who played at third for the Rangers in 2009 and 2010, to fill the hole created by Beltre. But it's likely that Davis will get a chance to contribute most games, giving him a chance to show what he can do as an everyday player. How long he'll stay as a player who's penciled into the lineup nearly every game will depend on how well Davis performs. He says he's ready.
"When you're in the minor leagues and you're playing every day, there's a certain mind frame that you have knowing you're going to be in the lineup," Davis said. "Earlier this year when I got called up and was coming off the bench, it was a little bit different for me. I felt like I did a really good job adapting to that, so I'm happy to be back up here and be playing every day. I hate to see Adrian get hurt, but I'm glad the door opened for me."
The slugger got a jolt of confidence from performing better in a bench role in two brief stints with the Rangers this season. He hit .269 with three homers and four RBIs and wasn't the same guy the club saw in the majors the two previous seasons. That player swung at too many pitches in the dirt and racked up strikeouts. This one still had some strikeouts but was more disciplined at the plate.
Davis' up-and-down journey between the buses in Triple-A and the charters at the big leagues started midway through the 2008 season. He hit .285 with 17 homers and 55 RBIs in 80 games (295 at-bats) and appeared to be a power-hitting first baseman of the future. But he couldn't sustain that momentum.
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He was sent to the minors just prior to the All-Star break in 2009 after hitting poorly against left-handed pitchers and collecting a gaggle of strikeouts. Davis got his 100th strikeout in his 219th at-bat, the fewest number of at-bats to reach 100 strikeouts in big league history, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
He was the starting first baseman out of spring training in 2010 but couldn't hold the spot. He hit just .188 (9-for-48) with one RBI in the first 15 games and was sent to Triple-A as Justin Smoak made his major league debut. And when Smoak was traded as part of the Cliff Lee deal a few months later, it was Mitch Moreland, and not Davis, that got the nod at first base. Moreland played well down the stretch and had a solid postseason.
Davis, though, just kept getting better at the plate. He continued to punish Triple-A pitching and carried it over to a spring training that included some monster home runs and plenty of multi-hit games. He became more versatile, playing third base and even left field in addition to first base, where he's played most of his games in the majors.
"We've seen both sides of him," outfielder David Murphy said. "What we've seen from him this year has been great. We've seen the guy that overswings. We've seen the guy that swings at everything in the dirt. We've seen the guy this year who has a more relaxed approach, who swings at more strikes and less stuff outside of the zone and just is finding out and using his skills better. He's getting to know himself more as a player.
"He's dominated Triple-A this year. You can't say that you can translate that to coming up here and dominating the big leagues, but he's definitely going to play a huge part of his team and I think he's going to be a big contributor. To have that kind of power and to be capable of driving in runs like that down in your lineup is a big-time weapon."
But it's Davis' job to prove he can do it consistently at the highest level. Davis will be out of options after this season, meaning the club has to make a decision on him soon. They either need to trade him now or in the offseason to get something for him or they need to determine if he can help them on the big club in 2012. Much of that depends on Davis and how he does in Beltre's absence.
Washington believes fans will see a solid performance from Davis. He thinks that way because of how Davis performed in his limited major league work this season.
"He's laid off a lot of stuff he used to be chasing," Washington said. "He knows where his weakness is. If he can step in that box and control his nerves and make them elevate the ball, that's what he has to do. If he does that, Chris is going to be fine. He's no secret to the league. They're going to pitch him the way they think they can get him out. If he shows them that's not going to work, they'll make an adjustment and he'll have to make an adjustment. I think he will."
Now it's just up to Davis to prove his manager right and take advantage of this opportunity.
Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.