Athletics

A's Khris Davis 'pressing some' during miserable start to short season

A's Khris Davis 'pressing some' during miserable start to short season

Khris Davis has been to the plate 17 times in four games played. He doesn’t have a hit.

That’s bad news for a designated hitter.

Davis has had a miserable start to this 60-game regular season, going 0-for-15 with seven strikeouts. He has grounded into two double plays. He has touched first base twice thanks to a pair of walks. And that’s it to this point.

Tuesday’s 8-3 loss was Davis’ worst game to this point considering the context of his at-bats. He had at least one runner in scoring position every time he stepped to the plate and went 0-for-4.

He popped out with the bases loaded to end the first. He struck out swinging with runners on second and third to end the third. He grounded into a double play with two runners on to end the fifth. Then he struck out with two on in the eighth.

That’s one bad night at the ballpark.

“He’s pressing some,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said after the game. “If you watch his [batting practice] it’s good, but it has to transfer to the game. It’s a little bit of a struggle for him right now. He’s going through a tough stretch.”

Melvin wouldn’t say whether Davis will play Wednesday afternoon heading into Thursday's off day, but it might be time to let him take stock and come back against the Mariners on Friday.

Let’s not forget that Davis led major-league baseball with 48 home runs in 2018, can get scalding hot over a prolonged stretch and carry a team on his back. The A’s remember well him doing exactly that down the stretch in 2018, when others were far less steady.

Though an 0-for-15 stretch might not be a major issue over 162 games, it feels bigger with just 60 games to play. Everything is magnified, every win is important, and the A’s can’t give opportunities away with runners on while trying to quickly stack as many wins as possible.

It still seems super early to start panicking over an awful start. Davis has been too good for too long to be dismissed at such an early stage. A multiple-hit game might be all it takes to get Davis rolling again, but the slide needs to stop soon.

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Melvin has stated he’ll go with hot hands, as we’ve seen with Chad Pinder in the early going. The opposite can apply to the ice-cold. Fail to make the most of plate appearances and you might see less. That rule isn’t quite the same for the established.

“I’ve said all along that leashes can be a little bit shorter when you struggle,” Melvin said. “In 60 games, it’s like being in August right now. Some of the guys who have track records deserve a little bit of a longer leash. Certain guys need a day off, maybe a couple of days potentially, or a different look. He has been really good for us over the years. He had a bit of a tougher time the second half of last year and he has gotten off to a tough start this year.”

Davis saw his 2019 production dip due to a hip injury that was far worse than he let on, an ailment that can sap power from even the steadiest home-run hitters. Davis had just seven home runs from July through that regular season’s end, an outage unlike any the A’s have seen since he joined them prior to the 2016 season.

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Davis said during training camp that he was feeling good physically entering the season and has made some contact without anything to show for it.

“You want to get that first hit,” Melvin said prior to Tuesday’s game. “Sometimes you can press a little bit. He did have a couple of good at-bats and had a couple where he struck out (in early games) where he’s searching for a rhythm. When you’re 0-fer to start and you hit some balls hard it does get a little frustrating.”

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. 

[RELATED: Montas goes from "dark place" to A's Opening Day starter]

“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.

[RELATED: Marcus Semien's hard work sets tone, culture for A's]

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.”