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Red Sox hitters heeding Chili Davis’s message

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Part of what makes Chili Davis (left) a good hitting coach, said Travis Shaw (right), is his individual approach to each player.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Over 19 seasons playing in the majors, Chili Davis drove in 1,372 runs. And 17 years after retiring, he still takes extra pride in the 506 RBIs he produced with two outs.

"I was a two-out RBI machine," Davis said. "That was my favorite RBI."

There was pressure with two outs and runners in scoring position, but to Davis, it was on the pitcher, not himself.

"I think with two outs and runners in scoring position, pitchers are thinking, 'Ah, I've just got to get one more guy out,' " Davis said. "I just wanted to be the toughest out he could possibly have. A lot of pitchers make mistakes in those situation."


Clutch hitting was Davis's calling card. He was a .267 career hitter with two outs. He was a .183 hitter with two strikes. He was a .284 hitter with runners in scoring position.

Since Davis took the job as Red Sox hitting coach last season, the traits that made him one of the more dynamic switch-hitters of his era have become part of the DNA of the Sox' lineup.

The Sox have made quantum leaps in nearly every clutch category since Davis arrived. In 2014, their .183 batting average with two strikes was 11th in the majors. Last season, they were first in the league at .199. They were 23d in baseball in two-out batting average in 2014 (.224), but jumped to second last season (.274). When it came to batting average with runners in scoring position, the Sox were 27th in the league two years ago (.237). They were eighth last year (.271). Since the start of the 2015 season, they lead the league in hits, RBIs, doubles, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage with two outs.

"Chili's had a tremendous impact and I think it didn't really take hold or gain traction until about two months into last year's season," Sox manager John Farrell said. "The vision that he tries to create for our hitters and the mind-set or approach that he tries to get across to guys — taking what a pitcher gives him in RBI situations, not looking to be the guy that gets everything in one swing of the bat — he firmly believes in what this organizational philosophy has been for years and that is a relentless approach up and down the lineup, using the whole field where those opportunities present [themselves], and I think we're seeing that come to light."


Davis shied away from taking any credit.

"Since I got here?" he said. "Nah, I don't know. That's them. They're aggressive. They work. You ask them to work on something and they work at it. They trust it and they work with it."

But Davis has instilled a mentality at the plate in which hitters thrive in tense situations instead of panic. The logic is simple: Even with two strikes, the pitcher still has to throw another one.

"The guy's still got to throw strikes," Davis said. "[If] you panic, then you chase. If you stay where you were with no strikes, he's still got to throw a strike."

Two years ago, Jackie Bradley Jr. was a .222 hitter with runners in scoring position. Last season, he hit .309. So far this season, he's hitting .467.

"I think it's just more of a mind-set," Bradley said. "Just making sure that we're staying focused throughout the whole at-bat and keying in on what we want to do in that particular situation because everybody has a different approach because the pitcher's going to approach each batter accordingly."


Brock Holt was a .271 hitter with two outs in 2014. Last season, he hit .302. This season, even though he's hitting just .268 overall, he's hitting .294 with two outs.

"I think it's just our approach as a whole," Holt said. "I think we've got a lot of guys that are good at putting the ball in play and that's what you want to do with two outs, two strikes, is put it in play and put the pressure on the defense. So we've done a good job at doing that."

Davis communicates with each hitter as an individual, something he learned from his own hitting coaches, such as Rod Carew, Tommy McCraw, and Terry Crowley.

"It's different for each hitter," said Travis Shaw. "I've heard him talk to different hitters and he keys on different things for different guys. He kind of feels out what triggers guys like. Chili puts in the work, film work, everything, so I feel like he's got a really good feel of what each guy's strengths are and what their triggers are at the plate, and he knows how to communicate with each individual guy what that is that gets them going again."

For instance, Shaw is off to a torrid .322 start, but Davis still works with Shaw as if the third baseman was pulling himself out of a slump.


"Sometimes I get a little big when I start feeling pretty good about myself at the plate and then it's trying to do a little bit more, little bit more," Shaw said. "For me, even when I'm going well, he'll pick a couple days when he thinks it's starting to be too much and he'll try to tone it back down. That's stuff that I've been really grateful for, because there have been times when I feel really good and he tries to kind of reset. Like, normally what you'd do in a slump, he's having me do it in a hot streak just to kind of reset to make sure that you stick with what you've been doing."

Davis said, "We're constantly trying to eliminate the long slumps. You know, you get into it and it gets too long, then you start doubting."

With Mookie Betts, Davis looks through the lens of a leadoff hitter. Neither of them dance around the fact that Betts has to cut his strikeouts down. But the conversation becomes a matter of treating the pitcher like a puzzle.

"Just know what their finishing pitches are," Betts said. "Obviously, they're going to switch it up, but know what they want to do and kind of expect it and be ready for it. That type of thing."

It's less about instructing, Davis said, and more about listening.


"They'll tell you what's going on and you watch them," said Davis. "I've been here, it's my second year now, so I think I know a little bit about them, enough about them to try to see things before they start happening — bad things before they start happening — so they trust me there."

What registers for Dustin Pedroia or Hanley Ramirez may not register for Betts or Shaw, but Davis has a way of reaching each of them so that ultimately his message resonates.

"He just gives us things to think about," Betts said. "I think everybody kind of listens to him and they take what they understand and then put that into the game. I think he knows how to talk to everybody and get everybody to understand what he's saying. He has a really good philosophy with those things and I think we just put it all into action. He knows how to talk to each one of us to get it to register even though he's saying the same thing."

Julian Benbow can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.