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Davis embraces new opportunity with Pirates

| Saturday, April 19, 2014, 7:24 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates first baseman Ike Davis smiles after hitting a double during the second inning against the Brewers on Saturday, April 19, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates first baseman Ike Davis scores past Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy during the second inning Saturday, April 19, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates first baseman Ike Davis takes the field before a game against the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday, April 19, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates first baseman Ike Davis scores during the second inning against the Brewers on Saturday, April 19, 2014, at PNC Park.

Ike Davis and his luggage arrived in the PNC Park clubhouse just after 3:30 p.m. Saturday. A white, No. 15 jersey hung from his empty locker. The Pirates' trade with the New York Mets on Friday evening happened so quickly, clubhouse attendants did not have time to produce a proper name plate above Davis' locker, settling for writing his name on a scrap of paper and taping it above the stall.

While Davis knows little of the city or Pirates, he told reporters he is ready for a second chance and a new home after a once-promising career soured in New York. The Pirates had been in need of an upgrade at first base since October.

Davis batted sixth Saturday against the Milwaukee Brewers and took the locker of Travis Ishikawa, who was designated for assignment to make room for Davis.

“It's weird leaving the only place you've ever been, especially the guys you've been with, some of them for seven years. That was the only tough part,” said Davis, who was stuck behind Lucas Duda with the Mets. “I was excited, obviously, to play. I haven't been playing.”

Davis will play, and play often, in Pittsburgh.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said playing time at first base will be a straight platoon, with Davis taking most of the plate appearances against right-handed pitching and Gaby Sanchez starting against left-handed pitching. That means Davis will enjoy the lion's share of at-bats.

Not only are there more righties than lefties in the game, but that's especially true in the National League Central. Of the 20 starting pitchers in the four rotations of Pirates' division rivals, 18 are right-handed.

“It's going to be based upon the pitcher's hand more than anything,” Hurdle said of the platoon split. “We acquired Ike as a guy we have had our sights on for a while. We get a lot of right-handed pitching. … I had a nice professional conversation with Gaby. That was the hard part. It had gotten to the point where it looked like there was going to be a window of opportunity, and then we put a screen over the window again for him.”

Davis has a career .828 OPS against right-handed pitching. Sanchez has a career .701 OPS vs. righties.

Davis once was thought to be a cornerstone player for the Mets. He was the 18th overall pick in the 2008 draft out of Arizona State. After a promising rookie season in 2010, injuries and inconsistent performance diminished his stock — a New York Daily News headline in Saturday's edition read “Take a Hike, Ike!”

Davis always has had power — he hit a career-best 32 home runs in 2012 — and patience, possessing a 12.2 percent walk rate for his career.

After being briefly demoted to the minors last season, Davis led the NL with a .449 on-base mark in the second half. Davis said he believes those improvements can carry over in Pittsburgh.

“I just tried to see the ball a little longer. Sometimes you get in a habit of not trusting yourself, and that's the worst thing you can do,” he said. “Your hands are fast enough to hit fastballs. You don't need to cheat. When you cheat, you don't see the ball as well. I'm not trying to cheat anymore.”

While Davis spent his entire career with the Mets, his father, Ron Davis, a former major league pitcher, was traded three times in his 11-year career.

“He loved it,” the younger Davis said. “Usually it means one team doesn't want you and another team does.”

Davis sounded pleased to be in a new environment.

“It can't hurt. It was pretty negative over there for me for a little while,” he said. “Hopefully I can come over here and get some positive energy and start building forward and start playing better.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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