ARLINGTON -- Chris Davis could be almost as important to the Rangers as Cliff Lee in seeing if Friday's blockbuster trade pays off in a division title or more at the end of the season. The Rangers included Justin Smoak in the trade that brought Lee to Texas. That meant Davis was called up from Triple-A Oklahoma City. Davis was the Rangers' Opening Day first baseman but was sent to the Minor Leagues on April 23 after hitting .188 with no home runs and one RBI in his first 15 games. Smoak was struggling at the plate as well, and Rangers first basemen went into Saturday's game hitting .197, the lowest combined average in the American League. Their .326 slugging percentage was the second lowest combined in the league.
The Rangers still need more production from a premium offensive position, and now Davis has the job again. There is no doubt he was disappointed and frustrated while being stuck at Triple-A for two and a half months, but he still hit .354 with 10 home runs and 56 RBIs in 67 games with a .403 on-base percentage and a .555 slugging percentage. "I think the biggest thing for me was going down there relaxed and finding something I was comfortable with mechanically and sticking with it," Davis said. "At some point, you have to say enough's enough. I'm going to do this, I'm going to hit this way, and give yourself a chance to get comfortable with it and familiar with it." One tangible upgrade in the switch is Davis is considered the far better defensive player. There was some sentiment for bringing him back to the big leagues on that basis alone if Smoak did not improve offensively. "He's quicker. His hands are better. To me, he's more instinctive," manager Ron Washington said. "That's not taking anything from Smoak. Smoak's young. As Smoak's career develops, he'll figure it out, too. That's the difference for me.
"[Davis] one of the best first basemen in the league."The Rangers also have to decide how much playing time Davis will get against left-handers or if they'll use Joaquin Arias against them. The Rangers began the season with right-handed-hitting Ryan Garko on the roster as a complement to Davis. But he was sent down as well, and the Rangers didn't see a need to fill that role because Smoak was a switch-hitter. "He's going to get a chance to do it. Sometimes, when there's a tough lefty out there, I'll go with Joaquin again," Washington said. "In the sixth inning when they go to a righty in a bullpen, I'll get Chris in there. At that point, if they got any lefty's late in the game, he'll have to face him. "I'll pick and choose some of the left-handers I may not want him to face." But Davis feels he's improved on his previous struggles against left-handers. But if he hasn't, a right-handed-hitting corner infielder is likely the last unfulfilled need on the Rangers' mid-season wish list. "It was a few weeks ago, we played Nashville and we faced four lefties in a row," Davis said. "It helped going out there, seeing how they were pitching me, attacking me. I actually found out what I did in the past that helped me have success, and kind of the way I approached them in the past when I was having success. "When I came up the first go around, I hit left-handers really well. I kind of found my rhythm and my stride against them. I think I'm a lot more confident in the box against them now."