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Maybe Sitting Will Help Davis Find a Way Out of His Slump

June 03, 1988|SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writer

Maybe idleness on the Dodger bench has enabled Mike Davis, almost as productive sitting as hitting, to discover a solution to the worst slump of his career.

All other means of trying to jolt the Dodgers' right fielder out of his slump have had no lasting positive results. So, this was the next--and last?--step.

Not happy about sitting on his .210 batting average and 2-for-34 slump, but with no other choice, Davis has had plenty of time recently to think.

"I sit on the bench and try to picture the right way to swing," Davis said. "Or, I'll grab a bat and come up to the clubhouse to have a few cuts. I try to visualize the way I should do it."

Visualization already has been tried. About two weeks ago, in a darkened alcove adjacent to the Dodger clubhouse, Davis was given a private screening of footage from more productive times as an Oakland Athletic, followed by his recent hard times as a Dodger.

That was not done for nostalgic purposes. Nor was it penance for signing a 2-year, $1.975-million free-agent contract and failing to produce. Davis and Dodger coaches merely were trying to find some flaw, some difference in his stance or swing that could explain why Davis had hit so well last season and so poorly this season.

He noticed several discrepancies in his hand movement before starting his swing, heightening hopes that his problem could be easily solved. But in subsequent games, Davis continued to struggle and found himself on the bench for the last two games of the Dodgers' just-concluded trip.

"But I feel close to breaking through," Davis said.

Going into tonight's game against the Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium, Davis' .210 average is the lowest among Dodger starters. He has yet to hit a home run, has just 9 runs batted in and has struck out 40 times in 157 at-bats.

Those numbers are not exactly what the Dodgers had in mind when they signed Davis. It certainly is not what Davis expected, either, after coming off a generally productive, if inconsistent, season with the A's.

Dodger decision-makers say they have not given up on Davis, but Manager Tom Lasorda recently thought about benching Davis regularly against left-handed pitchers and isn't saying how long Davis will sit. He may return to the lineup tonight.

No one is feeling worse about the slump than Davis himself. An upbeat person, he has tried to remain positive. But Tuesday night in New York, after Lasorda had benched him for the first time against a right-handed pitcher, a quiet Davis was clearly disappointed.

The next day, though, he said he felt as if he was close to an answer and warned people not to give up on him. He indicated that this slump is harder on him than his 1984 slump, in which he hit .187 in the first half but bounced back to hit .277 in the second.

"Sometimes, I've felt the plate is 7 feet wide," Davis said. "You really have to know Mike Davis to know what's wrong. It's really a very small adjustment. A half inch here or there on hand placement can make a difference. Basically, I've got to relax my hands and I've been moving the bat slightly before the pitch.

"But once Mike Davis starts swinging the bat the way he can, you'll see. You give me until the end of June, then look at the numbers and maybe you can write something positive about Mike Davis just once."

Until the All-Star break last season, there were only positive things to say about Davis. He had 20 home runs, 53 runs batted in and a .292 average at that point. In his sixth season, it appeared that Davis was fulfilling the promise of being a quality hitter.

But in the first game after the break, Davis hyper-extended his right knee kicking a door in the visiting dugout at Boston's Fenway Park after failing to move a runner. His average plummeted and has yet to bounce back up.

From last July's All-Star break to Wednesday night, Davis has 77 hits in 353 at-bats for a .218 average.

Despite that, Lasorda and Fred Claire, the Dodgers' executive vice president, say they believe the true Mike Davis is the one who tore up American League pitching before the break, not the one who tore up his knee and his batting average in rapid succession.

"Mike's a proven player," Claire said. "The main point I've tried to emphasize with him is that we believe in him. We want him to relax and try to enjoy himself. . . . I think he's wanted to show us too much, show us we made the right decision in signing him. But we know we made the right decision. We just need Mike to not worry about it."

This is not the first time Lasorda has dealt with a high-priced, newly acquired slugger who suffered through a slump in his first season as a Dodger. In 1976, Dusty Baker came to the Dodgers from the Atlanta Braves and was acutely non-productive.

"Dusty had three home runs the whole season," Lasorda said. "The next year, he hit 30. Same deal here. (Davis) is trying too hard to impress us. All you can do is talk to him and try to help him.

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