Chili Davis has been a hitting coach for the last five years. He gets it.
He gets the fans calling for his head. After all, the Red Sox fired pitching coach Juan Nieves and it ignited a good run for the starting rotation. So, of course, the thinking would follow that if the team fires Davis, the same result would occur.
Davis signed a multiyear deal with the Red Sox this offseason, lured away from the Oakland A’s after three seasons. Several teams were interested in hiring him, including the Yankees, with whom he won World Series titles in 1998 and 1999. The Red Sox had to go the extra mile — more years and more money — to get him.
So, he isn’t going anywhere.
“It’s my responsibility,’’ he said. “I’m not going to duck that. I came over here to make a difference and although I’m not the guy going up there to hit, their at-bats are somewhat my at-bats, too. I go through it with them.
“I sense the frustrations when they make outs that they don’t want to make. I feel their pain when they’re called for a pitch they didn’t think was a strike, and I feel the frustration when guys are pitching them carefully. I understand. I’ve been down that road as a hitter.
“It is my responsibility. I’m not going to shy away from that. If I see something that needs to be addressed, I have to do that.”
Davis said these things before the Red Sox’ 8-3 victory over the Angels. They spread around 12 hits and Mike Napoli crushed two pitches from lefty C.J. Wilson and sent them out to left in a hurry.
The Red Sox were even 6 for 12 with runners in scoring position on Saturday.
But before that, oh my, they were putrid.
Going into Saturday’s games, the Red Sox were hitting .203, 29th in baseball. They were hitting .197 vs. lefties, worst in baseball. They were hitting .223 in May, worst in baseball and 29 points below the American League average. They were hitting .174 at first base, worst in baseball; .188 at catcher, 25th; dead last in right field at .159, some 42 points lower than 29th Houston.
Awful. This, from an established lineup of high-priced hitters.
“Learning more than trying,” Davis interjected. “I know that I have good hitters on this ball club. I know that Papi, Sandoval, Hanley, Pedey . . . you just go down the lineup. They’re good hitters. They’ve been successful hitters. Part of it for me is getting to understand them a little more.
“Sometimes you have to approach a guy. Sometimes you need to make an adjustment, suggest change this or change that. It’s probably something they have done all their lives. If they’re going at it in the right direction, that’s all you can ask.”
Davis, a switch-hitter, had a successful 19-year career in the majors, winning three world championships and being named to three All-Star teams. He hit 350 homers and drove in 1,372 runs, and averaged (over 162 games) .274 with 23 homers and 91 RBIs. The switch-hitter had an .811 OPS and .360 OBP.
Davis said the current situation is trying because “the players want to win. The staff wants to win, the front office, we all want to win,’’ he said. “As poorly as we’re playing right now as a team, we’re 3½, 4½ games out of first place and it could be worse. We haven’t hit that streak yet or that spell where everyone is jelling where we’re pitching well and hitting well at the same time.
“It’s been either or so far. Once we put it together, we can make a run and do damage.”
Is it working too hard, or trying too much?
“I don’t think you can work too hard or try too hard, but I think at times we hitters try to do too much,’’ he said. “The opportunity to help the team win a ballgame shows up where you can be the hero. You have the ability to do that when the situation arises and you try to do too much.”
He gets hitters trying to go up there with the bases loaded and try to clear them, where maybe a smaller step — hit the ball in the air and get a run in is a better approach. But the bases are loaded, and they want to clear the bases.
“The thing about it is, later in the year when we’re scoring 10-12 runs a game, nobody’s going to be talking about runners in scoring position,’’ he said. “If we were winning games and coming through with runners in scoring position, the wins would overshadow it. It’s magnified now because we’re losing games that way. It’s being addressed and we’re working at it.”
Davis has been around teams where overload can also be a problem. Too much work in the cage. Too much information.
“Sometimes you have to back off,” he said. “Sometimes it’s not the right time to approach certain guys. They’re big league ballplayers. If you’re in their face all the time the message gets diluted. Sometimes they need to figure it out for themselves.”
He added, “I don’t see anyone overworking. I see guys working to get better. I used to have Nate Freiman in Oakland who really worked hard. I had to tell him, take 10 more [swings] and get out of here. You can wear yourself down.”
Davis’s career as a hitter garnered him respect as a hitting coach. He was Pawtucket’s hitting coach in 2011 before he took the opportunity in Oakland, overseeing the breakouts of Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson, and others.
So now the Red Sox await that impact.
Davis thinks it will come. But it had better be soon. The Nation is getting restless.