The fact that Ike Davis bats left-handed and has a high career on-base percentage attracted the Pirates.
By Bill Brink / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Although Tom Glavine was 37 when he first took the mound for the New York Mets in 2003, he was still one of the most effective pitchers in the majors. He recorded an ERA of less than 2.00 twice in the previous five seasons, one of which won him a Cy Young, and started at least 35 games in four consecutive years. ■ When after five years with the Mets, Glavine decided to return to the Atlanta Braves, with whom he had spent the first 16 seasons of his career, he left behind a compensatory draft pick that, under the old rules, gave the Mets an additional first-round selection. The Mets used the pick on a first baseman from Arizona State named Ike Davis.
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Davis would go on to experience the highs and lows that affect the supremely talented. Now a Pirate and hopefully free of position battles, freak injuries, illnesses and inconsistent playing time, Davis hopes to rediscover those highs.
"I feel comfortable at the plate right now," Davis said. "It just takes time. Just game after game, 1 for 3, 1 for 4. Five or six months of that, you'll be fine."
A first taste
Davis got a taste of baseball in New York the minute he signed, debuting with the Mets' low-Class A Brooklyn affiliate. In 2009, a .381 on-base percentage and 20 home runs in two levels of the minors set him up to make his Class AAA debut in '10, and after tearing up the International League for 10 games, the Mets called him up.
He hit 19 home runs in his rookie season and had a .351 on-base percentage, a harbinger of a skill he would retain even when his batting average dropped. The major league game took some adjusting, not necessarily physically but in approach and concentration.
"In the majors, you can't take any pitch off. You can't slack mentally for a second or you'll get exposed," Davis said. "The game's become mentally more draining in the major leagues just because the focus level has to be so high all the time."
Davis got off to a great start in 2011 before running into bad luck. In a May 10 game at Coors Field against the Colorado Rockies, Davis and third baseman David Wright collided while chasing a pop-up. Davis rolled his left ankle and tore the cartilage in his joint. He missed the rest of the season. He said the ankle is fine now, just arthritic.
The highs and lows
During spring training before the 2012 season, Davis contracted what the Mets believed was valley fever, a fungal infection that causes fatigue, among other symptoms. Davis said he didn't know how much the issue affected him during the season.
"I would get tired easy, I would get sick easy," he said. "That's about it. You had to limit your work, you had to limit the amount of work you put."
Davis was hitting .185 with a .550 on-base plus slugging percentage at the end of April that year. He hit .235 the rest of the way and finished with 32 home runs, including nine in July and seven in September/ October. The home run total tied for fifth in the National League.
"Playing every day, I got into a rhythm," Davis said. "If I get into a rhythm I can usually play pretty well. In years past, I just haven't found a rhythm until later in the season. That's why earlier in the season I've had struggles."
That issue manifested itself in 2013, when Davis struggled to the point where the Mets sent him to the minors. Hitting .161 on June 9 with a .242 on-base percentage, Davis went to Class AAA Las Vegas for a month.
He had a .429 on-base percentage in 48 games after returning from AAA . "I played a lot better when I came back from the minors. I didn't find my swing until later in the season."
The success lasted until Aug. 31, when he tore an oblique and missed the season's final month. The oblique was sore previously during the season, Davis said, but wasn't the cause of his poor performance.
"When you tear your oblique, it's not just one day you're fine and then you tear your oblique," he said. "It kind of leads up to it."
The Pirates get him
Davis has a career .333 on-base percentage. Even when he hit .205 in 2013, his OBP was .326. That skill, along with the fact that Davis is left-handed, made him attractive to the Pirates, who entered this season with a focus on improving offensive efficiency and on-base percentage.
They traded for him April 18. This week, manager Clint Hurdle moved Davis to the No. 2 spot in the order to take advantage of the high on-base percentage. Davis views his solid on-base percentage and ability to take walks as a byproduct of a good approach at the plate.
"If you think about it, the at-bat that the pitcher walks you, you're usually in a pretty good count," Davis said. "That could have been easily a hit if he just would have thrown that fastball over the plate instead of just being like, no, I'm not going to throw the fastball over the plate."
The Pirates have Davis under contract for two more seasons. He will play often because of the high number of right-handed starters the Pirates face, both in their division and across the league.
"I'm looking forward to playing the remainder of the season," Davis said.
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