May 12, 2012
Jon Cooper, Sting Daily –
There’s a certain bravado behind anyone that wears a mohawk.
Jake Davies, who sports one, has that brashness.
“He’s probably the loudest guy on the team,” said Head Coach Danny Hall of Davies, who, Hall said doubles as the team’s most popular player. ”I can walk in our little coaches’ area and have the door shut and the door could be shut to the clubhouse and you can hear Davies in the clubhouse all the time.”
“Oh yeah, he talks a lot,” agreed catcher Zane Evans. “He loves talking, even when we’re stretching out there he’s talking. He’s definitely the loudest. That’s very true.”
These days, the only thing louder than Davies himself is Davies’ bat.
Heading into the final ACC road trip of his senior season, the McDonough, Ga., native continued to lead the ACC in RBIs (54) and ranked among ACC leaders in home runs (eight, tied for eighth), total bases (92, tied for 12th), batting average (.335, 14th), slugging (.514, 19th) and hits (60, 13th). He’s also stepped forward as a valuable part of the Jackets’ rotation (he will take the ball in today’s game against Virginia, first pitch is scheduled for 1:00).
Today will be the second straight week Davies takes the mound in a starter’s capacity. In his debut, he handcuffed Charlotte, allowing one run and four hits over 4 2/3 innings. Pitching is not new for Davies. It actually was his primary role his first two years on The Flats, when he went a combined 5-0 in 44 appearances, all in relief, with a 3.53 ERA (17 earned runs in 43 1/3 innings). His junior year he made one appearance, throwing five pitches in and retiring the only batter he faced.
Over the last two seasons, since moving to first base, Davies has showed he can hit a ton.
As his senior season and college career winds down, he’s now being asked to hit a ton and pitch. He’s done the job well enough to be placed on the watch list for the John Olerud Award, given to the nation’s top two-way player. Evans also was nominated for the award. They are the only two ACC players nominated.
“I’m definitely honored. It’s hard to come out there and play two ways, especially for Evans being a catcher,” he said. “It’s always good to get nominated for an award. I’m happy and excited for him and me.”
Hall is excited for them and to have them.
“We ask a lot of both those guys. So, it is deserving,” he said. “We need both of them right now. We need them to help us in two different ways. We’ve leaned on them and for the most part they’ve come through every time we’ve leaned on them. It is nice that they’re recognized for it.”
Hall’s only regret as far as Davies’ pitching is that he didn’t call on the lefty sooner.
“It’s always hard when you have a guy that’s a position player, to balance his arm, balance the pitching,” he said. “Hindsight is 20/20 but I wish that I would have pitched him more early because his arm would probably be in a little better shape right now. We’ve just got to manage his arm from here on out down the stretch and hope that he can keep contributing on both ends of it.”
Davies has been a consistent contributor at the plate all season. Heading into the weekend series at Virginia, he had strung together hitting streaks of 10 and 14 games and had only two hitless streaks all year, one of two-games and one of three.
“That’s something I tried to improve on. Last year I was good for the first half of the season and the last half I was streaky,” said Davies, who as a junior, his first season as a full-time hitter, hit .347, one point behind team leader Matt Skole, with a .482 slugging percentage (fourth behind Palka, Skole and Jacob Esch). “This year I’m trying to stay through the whole season, just be consistent.”
Mission accomplished, according to Hall.
“He’s been really consistent,” said the Tech Head Coach. “We needed him to be consistent and that’s kind of why I put him in the middle of the order. He doesn’t strike out much. He’ll strike out every now and then but he usually has competitive at-bats.
“He does a very good job of hitting the ball the other way. I think that’s why he doesn’t slump a lot because he’s willing to take some hits the other and not just try to pull everything,” Hall added. “He’s played very good defense at first base. I started him over the weekend and he threw the ball very well there. I think he’s playing his best baseball at a time we need him to play his best baseball.”
One area in which Davies has improved the most is in the number of strikeouts, where he’s cut down from 48 K’s last year to 16 with two weeks to go.
Jake credits his older brother Kyle, a seven-year Major League pitcher.
“He told me, ‘If you want to get to the next level you’ve got to stop striking out,'” Jake said.
Experience also helped.
“I started watching a few more pitches,” he said. “Last year was my first real full season of hitting and I didn’t really know what to do sometimes at the plate. I was a little nervous and I wanted to swing early and hit the ball hard. This year I’m just trying to get a pitch in a certain situation that I want so that I can maybe drive a run in, get a guy over, get a sac fly, something like that. I’ve hit more home runs this year because I’m deeper in counts, so I’m seeing the ball more.”
Davies said that the most difficult aspect to master now is flipping the switch from player to pitcher or from pitcher to hitter.
“The mental aspect is completely different, especially when you go from hitting to pitching or if you’re doing it in the same game like I did Saturday,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to focus on both at the same time. Physically, my body is okay with it. It’s not really that big of a toll on you, only if it’s really, really hot or humid. Mentally it’s really taxing, the whole thought process of pitching, keeping in the counts and then focus at the plate all at the same time.”
His ability to balance either position and stay locked in on both has got him on a path to follow Kyle into the Majors. At what position he doesn’t know. So he’ll continue to do both and keep his options open.
“[Scouts] asked me if I’d rather pitch or hit and I tell them, ‘Whatever you want to take me as,'” he said, with a laugh. “Whatever will get me drafted. I think I’ve got more upside being a left-handed pitcher, but whatever they want to take me as, it doesn’t really matter to me. I just want to play the game.”
That message has come through loud and clear.