Athletics

A's hitting coach explains Khris Davis' slump, how he can escape it

A's hitting coach explains Khris Davis' slump, how he can escape it

Going hitless over four games is not a big deal when playing 162. It would be met with a shrug when evaluating an entire season, something that even the best hitters go through at one point or another.

You make some adjustments, work through it and get your timing back.

Khris Davis’ 0-for-15 start doesn’t feel like that. It’s different because the A’s are playing just 60 games this season. It’s different because the designated hitter has started the season in a slump.

That heaps pressure on someone with a tendency to do that on his own, and Davis has an issue to work through with the spotlight on.

“It’s unfortunate that you start the season like this,” A’s hitting coach Darren Bush said in a Wednesday morning video conference. “Everybody during the course of a season where you have 600 at bats, everybody is going to go 15 at bats where they don’t have a hit, where you square a few balls up and they don’t fall. The next thing you know, you look up and you’re 0-for-15.

“In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really get noticed. In a short season, when you start the season like that, it gets magnified and he’s going to feel the pressure even more because you want to get that first one out of the way.”

Davis will grind through this down period behind the scenes. He’s not in the A’s lineup for Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Colorado Rockies, with an off day scheduled after that.

It’s a good time for a break, considering Davis went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts Tuesday night, all while having at least one runner in scoring position each time he came to the plate.

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Davis has been using the high-velocity pitching machine a ton recently trying to find his timing, to speed up his eyes and help with reaction time. Bush and manager Bob Melvin have said Davis is having quality batting practice sessions that aren’t translating to games.

“His work has been great, really good,” Bush said, via the San Francisco Chronicle. “He worked a ton during the break, he was ready to rock n’ roll. Right now, he’s just missing the pitch he should hit, then they’re making good pitches on him and he’s battling and trying to foul them off, but they’re continually making the good pitch. He’s fighting. Just missing.

“…"Usually when you're just off like this, it's just a timing issue, where you just need more at-bats.”

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He may not get them in bulk when the A's start a road series on Friday in Seattle. The A's are going to pick their spots with Davis over letting him grind through this while playing in games. This is another byproduct of a 60-game slate, where each contest is 2.7 times heavier than normal.

"We’ll back off on the workload a little bit and probably try to pick some matchups, maybe against lefties – we have a lot of lefties coming up – and get him back going again and get him back in the lineup," Melvin said Wednesday morning. "We’ll do things a little bit differently than you’ve seen in the past."

 

Both Davis and the A’s are hoping they go better than what has happened thus far, where he has had seven strikeouts in 15 at bats.

Davis has to find his timing again to deliver the type of power numbers he has produced since joining the A’s in 2016. They slipped a bit late in 2019 while he was dealing with a hip issue that has been resolved at this point. He can’t let the frustration mount if the slump continues, which is far easier said than done for a player who wants to do well.

“KD wants to have success, so he puts a lot of pressure on himself just like anybody else,” Davis said. “He wants to help the team win. The less success you have, the more pressure you put on yourself. KD is no exception to that.

“He’s okay. I’d say it’s like any stretch in a season where you don’t have success that you want. You get frustrated, but at the same time you know that tomorrow’s another day. You have to shrug it off and get in there, get to work and be ready to go.”

How softball player Paige Halstead fared vs. Frankie Montas in live BP

How softball player Paige Halstead fared vs. Frankie Montas in live BP

A’s starter Frankie Montas was an absolute workhorse during the MLB hiatus. He lifted a considerable amount of weight, threw bullpens and simulated games. He also had to face Paige Halstead for a batting practice session.

Halstead, whose brother Ryan plays in the Giants organization, is used to male competition. She practices with Ryan quite a bit, but her résumé isn’t something to be ignored. 

A 2019 graduate of UCLA, and workhorse herself, Halstead also was a member of Team USA for three summers where she medaled multiple times. She also will be competing in a newly formed professional softball league, Athletes Unlimited, that begins later in August. 

Halstead had never seen Montas throw before. She had seen Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer previously, who also was throwing batting practice to her in the Arizona desert, but Montas was different.

“Honestly, I didn’t know much about him,” Halstead said on an episode of Momentum’s ‘Cork’d Up’ podcast. “I didn’t even know how hard he could throw.”

“I was waiting to hit off of him, one of the hitters there was like, ‘Dude, you know he throws like 100, right?’ I was like ‘What?’ ” Paige laughed. “I had no idea, I think, knowing that, going up there, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m just going to swing as hard as I can.’ ”

Sometimes, that’s all you can do. 

During the hiatus, Montas also was throwing those triple digits to a high school kid. He used every outlet he could find to stay active. Whatever he was doing worked, as he got the Opening Day nod and continues to dominate on the mound.

In three games this season, Montas boasts a 2.25 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 23 innings. The velocity on his fastball hasn’t quite hit that 100 mark yet, but that will come with time. 

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“The first pitch [Montas] threw, I blinked, and it was gone,” Halstead said. “He throws gas, but I just try to close my eyes and swing as hard as I can.”

“He was super nice about it,” Halstead said. “He likes to talk trash too, so that was fun.”

How Tony Kemp has become everything A’s hoped for when he was acquired

How Tony Kemp has become everything A’s hoped for when he was acquired

The second base position was a big question mark for the A's heading into the 2020 MLB season.

Prior to spring training, the team’s main need was a lefty infield bat, particularly to platoon with Franklin Barreto who, if he figures it out at the major-league level, could be a game-changer for an entire lineup.

But Barreto hasn't gotten much of a chance this season, not with Tony Kemp around. He changed everything. Through two-plus weeks of the season, it appears those second base questions have been answered.

On Saturday, Chad Pinder got the start at second just as he did on Opening Day, but Kemp has done a sensational job of filling in when needed, and not just as a runner on second base when the A’s find themselves in extras innings -- which has been the case lately.

In 10 games this season, Kemp is slashing .316/.500/.316 with two stolen bases, and that on-base percentage is boosted by a 25.9 percent walk rate. Not to mention, in the month of August alone, he’s gone 6-for-12 with a 1.147 OPS and is batting .500.

“Tony’s playing very well too, so we’re comfortable with both of those guys,” A's manager Bob Melvin told reporters after Saturday’s 3-1 victory over the Houston Astros.

Before the season, Kemp was one of a many options vying for time at second base for the A’s, and now he's splitting time with Pinder.

Even with prospect Jorge Mateo traded to the San Diego Padres, it looked to be a difficult decision to make with Kemp being thrown into the mix with Barreto and Rule 5 addition Vimael Machin also there.

But Melvin hasn’t forgotten about them.

“Barreto and Machin are the guys that aren’t getting a ton of at-bats right now, but at some point in time, they’re going to be called upon whether it’s injury, whether it’s days off, and they’re both working hard to stay ready,” Melvin said.

Beyond the production at the plate, Kemp has blended in beautifully with the team as a whole.

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Only with the A's for a brief period of time, Kemp noticed the A’s wanted to learn about the “+1 Effect” campaign he launched, and his fun, playful personality lines up perfectly with the tone the team has always set. The productivity is an added bonus.

 “At this point in time, we like how we’re doing it with Tony and Chad,” Melvin added. “They’re both contributing to wins on both sides.”