Observations on Wright and Davis from last night in Tampa
Heading into last evening’s Grapefruit League game in Tampa against the New York Yankees, right-handed pitcher Mike Wright had a stranglehold on a back-end spot in the starting rotation for the Baltimore Orioles. He made four starts prior to last night and appeared in five games overall. He hadn’t allowed a run in ten innings and at the time, he was the only pitcher in all of MLB Spring Training to pitch that many inning and not allow a run.
Wright pitched back-to-back three inning outings against the Boston Red Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates, allowing just four hits and one walk while striking out five batters. Last night though, Wright was touched up for his first runs of the season.
Pitching into the third inning, Wright threw 69 pitches and allowed an eight-pitch walk to Brett Gardner to open the bottom of the first. The next batter was Aaron Judge and on a 92mph cutter, Wright’s scoreless inning streak this spring was snapped as Judge took him deep over the right field fence.
The six hits Wright gave up last evening was a Grapefruit League high for him, but there shouldn’t be any doubt about his rotation chances. It’s also worth noting that he’s now starting to utilize his cutter, which if you recall, was frowned upon for many years within the organization. Manager Brandon Hyde spoke with The Sun reporter Jon Meoli and offered up his thoughts on Wright’s cutter.
“You saw a lot of tough swings, bad swings, where it was really moving. So, I’m hoping it’s giving him confidence, and it looks like he’s just continuing to get better every outing as he goes along.”
*Chris Davis played in his first game since March 3 against the Detroit Tigers last night and collected his first hit since February 26. Davis was day-to-day with a hip injury however, after an MRI came back clean, he returned to the lineup after the team’s only off-day this spring on Monday. Coming into the night, Davis was hitting just .083 (1-for-12) with seven strikeouts. For the former home run champion, every called strike – whether first or third – is going to be noticed and criticized as he tries to return to the power-hitter he once was.
In his first at-bat in nine days, Davis saw three pitches from Yankees starter Jonathan Loaisiga. The first pitch was a 97mph fastball, the second was 96 and the third was an off speed pitch registering at 82mph on the gun at George M. Steinbrenner field. Three pitches and three called strikes later, Davis didn’t swing the bat.
His workout regime in the winter has been talked about for month now. He reported to camp lighter as well and that’s also been documented. However, if Davis is going to start hitting again he’s going to need to swing the bat on pitch one or pitch two and avoid being down in the count every plate appearance.
Last season, 26.6% of first pitches to Davis were strikes, the highest since 2015 when he saw 28.8% first pitch strikes. Knowing that more than a quarter of the time (.250 if we’re talking batting averages which is higher than Davis has seen in three seasons) he’s seeing a first-pitch strike, the bat should be through the zone on pitch one. Except, it wasn’t.
Only 29.2% of the time was he swinging at the first pitch last season, still higher than the Major League average of 27.5%, but the lowest percentage of his entire 11-year career. Maybe swinging at the first pitch this season will generate more success, simply judging from his previous yearly totals. In 2012, he swung at the first pitch 41.1% of the time and hit .270 that season with a .326 on-base percentage and 33 home runs. In 2015, he swung at the first pitch 40.2% of the time and hit 47 home runs that year, leading the majors and finishing with a slash line of .262/.361/.562/.923.
“I have started to see it more in BP and that’s a big thing for me,” Davis told MASN’s Steve Melewski after he was removed from the game. “I know it’s just BP but sometimes I can get into bad habits trying to launch or lift the ball. But, I’ve tried to stay grounded this spring, tried to stay committed to the approach I have and hit line drives in BP. Today was the first day I felt like some of those line drives started to leave the lead. I’m just going to have to continue to work and continue to do everything I can to get ready for the season.”
Davis finished the night 1-for-2, with an opposite field RBI single.