April 18, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Dodgers infielder Matt Davidson can pitch too

Matt Davidson didn’t sound too convincing when he was asked on a Monday video call if he considers himself a two-way player.

“Um … yeah, I guess so,” said Davidson, the former Yucaipa High standout who is looking to win a reserve role with the Dodgers this spring. “I guess I look at myself as, there are some tools I have and some I don’t, but one of my tools is pitching, so we’ll see where it goes. I feel like I can compete on the mound.”

So do the Dodgers, a sentiment that came as a pleasant surprise to Davidson after he signed a minor league deal Feb. 16, just as spring training began.

Davidson, who turns 30 on March 26, reported to camp as a right-handed-hitting corner infielder with some pop — he hit .224 with a .726 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 46 homers and 130 RBIs in 241 games for the Chicago White Sox in 2017-2018 and .264 with 33 homers and 101 RBIs for triple-A Nashville in 2019.

Though he made three relief appearances with the White Sox in 2018 and three with the Cincinnati Reds in 2020, the prospect of pitching did not come up with the Dodgers or any other team Davidson spoke to over the winter. That changed shortly after Davidson arrived at Camelback Ranch in Phoenix.

“The first day I got here, I talked to Dave, and he brought it up right away,” Davidson said of Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “I was very excited about that. I was going to say something if it wasn’t brought up, but we kind of hit the ground running with it.”

Davidson is focused more on defense and hitting and is “easing” his way into pitching with strength-and-conditioning and long-toss programs. But he has thrown one bullpen session and expects to complete another soon. Roberts said there’s a chance he could pitch in a Cactus League game.

“I’m listening to my arm, making sure I do it the right way,” Davidson said. “It feels very comfortable to be on a mound. It’s not foreign whatsoever. It definitely doesn’t seem like extra work to me after a full day of fielding and hitting.”

At 6 foot 3 and 230 pounds, Davidson cuts an imposing figure on the mound, where he mixes a fastball with a curveball and split-fingered fastball.

“With the technology they have here, I’m sure I’ll be throwing something else by the end of camp,” Davidson said. “I was up to 92 mph with the White Sox with no throwing program. With all the weighted-ball stuff and things they have going on here, I’m hoping to get it up higher than that.”

Davidson pitched in high school and said it was “a dream to pitch in the big leagues before anything,” but he was a high draft pick because of his hitting prowess, the Arizona Diamondbacks selecting him with the 35th overall pick in 2009. Davidson did not pitch in his first nine professional seasons before being reacquainted with the mound in 2018.

Matt Davidson made three appearances as a relief pitcher with the Cincinnati Reds in 2020.

(Aaron Doster / Associated Press)

“Once I threw some innings with the White Sox, I fell back in love with it,” Davidson said. “I just thought now with the game, two-way playing is not as crazy or foreign as it maybe once used to be.”

The Dodgers aren’t expecting Davidson to combine the pitching and hitting prowess of Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani, but Davidson’s ability to pitch could enhance his chances of making the team.

“He’s in the mix,” Roberts said. “He’s a right-handed bat off the bench. He can play third, he can play first, and he’s open to logging some innings out of the ‘pen. He’s got the good arm with the willingness. He threw a ‘pen the other day. The ball came out good, so he just gives us that versatility.”

An opt-out clause in his contract will allow Davidson to become a free agent in late March if he does not make the opening day roster.

Though his pitching is something of a bonus, Davidson’s chances of cracking the deep and versatile roster of the defending World Series-champion Dodgers will hinge on how he hits and plays defense. And how he hits will depend on his ability to make consistent contact.

Davidson has plenty of raw power, as he showed when he hit a solo homer in the team’s exhibition opener Sunday.

But Davidson logged 165 strikeouts in 414 at-bats in 2017 and 165 strikeouts in 434 at-bats in 2018 for the White Sox. He whiffed 151 times in 469 at-bats for Nashville in 2019. Davidson hit .163 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 20 games for Cincinnati in 2020.

“I want to have better at-bats,” Davidson said. “I want to swing at better pitches, swing at strikes and not balls, put myself in better counts, and when I get to those counts, take advantage of the pitches I get and doing something with them.”