Howard Johnson can empathize with Ike Davis. The former Met player remembers what April and May were like. A notorious slow starter, over his 14-year career, Johnson hit .219 in the month of April with a .317 on-base percentage. He was a career .237 hitter in May.
Slow down. That’s what then Mets manager Davey Johnson told the young Mets third baseman Howard Johnson.
“I was so strong early in the season, Davey Johnson made sure I got plenty of batting practice swings,” said Johnson in a phone interview today. “He tried to wear me down a little bit. Once you slow the body down, settle into a groove, that’s usually when players start doing well. You have to slow the game down and let it just happen instead of trying to force it all the time.”
The former Mets hitting instructor offered his former pupil similar sage advice: take plenty of batting practice, hit off a curveball machine, “track” pitchers during side sessions in the bullpen and see as many pitches at game speed.
Sounds simple. Too simple? Slumps are simple, deceptively simple on occasion; it’s where they lead that is maddening.
“Slumps start mechanically but, usually, they grow from the mental side,” said Johnson. “When you are a young player (Davis is only in his second full major league season) and things don’t break for you early it’s easy to start putting pressure on yourself to perform. . If you start playing that game with yourself, it’s difficult.”
Johnson was Davis' hitting instructor last season. This year he’s watched Davis from the comfort of his own living -- on television.
Opposing pitchers know the book on the Mets first baseman; feed him a “steady diet” of breaking balls which makes Davis, a natural left-handed pull hitter, roll the ball over and “get himself out,” added Johnson.
Johsnon said he could see Davis “make adjustments … and I applaud anyone who is trying to make adjustments,” he said. “But sometimes you get out of sync and you have to do things to try and trick yourself out of it.”
Trick yourself out of it?
When Johnson played, and slumped early in the season, former coach Bud Harrelson would take Johnson out and try to drop bunts down the third base line. Former hitting instructor Bill Robinson would encourage HoJo to get a heavy bat – and swing it. Just relax and let the bat do all the work, said Johnson.
Johnson, who shares his thoughts on Twitter (@20HoJo), suggested:
A gimmick that Ike Davis could try to maybe kick start him would be to grab the HEAVIEST bat he can find and hit with that.#slowdown#mets
— Howard Johnson (@20Hojo) May 5, 2012
“Just slow down,” said Johnson. “There’s a disconnect mentally, so do something radically different and hopefully that will snap him out of it.”
For the record, it is Davis’ six-week slump that. In 28 games, the Mets first baseman is batting .173 with three home runs, nine RBI and 30 strikeouts in 98 official at-bats. It has led to Terry Collins sliding Davis up and down the Mets batting order from fourth to fifth to seventh, back to sixth. No luck.
Collins called Davis’ slump the “toughest time of his major league career,” followed with the encouraging words: “We’ll grind through it.” Translation: Davis is here to stay. Any suggestion of a trip to Buffalo at this point is pure media speculation. Collins is trying to build confidence in his young players.
Davis’ slow start has become a head game. The good news is, Collins and the Mets expected (and planned for) these bumps in the road, responding with encouragement and support. Now, it’s up to Davis to be keep his head up and on the ball.