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09/22/09 9:00 PM ET
Davis' growth not lost on former coach
Mariners' Van Burkleo trumpets protege's progress
By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
OAKLAND -- Nobody associated with the A's hesitates to name Rajai Davis as a primary reason for the team's greatly improved play over the past couple of months. That sentiment extends all the way to Seattle, via St. Petersburg. That's where Mariners bench coach Ty Van Burkleo, who spent considerable time working with Davis while serving as Oakland's hitting coach last season, was when he told MLB.com on Tuesday that he's been watching Davis' emergence as the "sparkplug" of the A's offense with great interest. "Oh, I'm fully aware of what Raj is doing for them," Van Burkleo said by phone before joining the Mariners on the field for batting practice at Tropicana Field. "Even if I wasn't close with him, it'd be hard not to notice what's happening. He's on the highlights every night these days." Davis, 28, went from fourth outfielder to starting center fielder shortly after the A's traded Matt Holliday to the Cardinals before the July 31 Trade Deadline, moving Scott Hairston from center to left. So good has Davis been for so long, it's not quite accurate to say he's on a hot streak. Hot streaks last a week, maybe two or three, maybe a month. But Davis has been tearing it up since the All-Star break in mid-July, even before he became a regular. Entering the second game of a four-game series against the visiting Rangers on Tuesday at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Davis was batting .347 -- third-best in the American League over that span -- with 41 runs, 18 doubles, three triples, a home run, 38 RBIs and a Major League-leading 29 stolen bases in 59 games since the break. Not coincidentally, the A's are 34-30 since the break, fifth-best in the AL. "I am so proud of Rajai, I really am," said Van Burkleo, whom Oakland manager Bob Geren last week cited as a key contributor in Davis' development. "I'm not really surprised at what he's doing, either. I knew if he got a chance to show what he can do on a regular basis, this is what he's capable of. When we were together, as he got better and better, I'd tell him, 'People are going to find out about you, Raj.' "Now when I see him, like when we were in Oakland a couple weeks ago, I give him a big ol' hug and say, 'People are finding out!'" Van Burkleo said much of the work he did with Davis, a right-handed hitter, focused on getting his lower half to work more in concert with his swing, allowing him to get his hands in a better position to hit the ball to right field. "And I'm not taking credit for this at all, because you're gonna have a hard time finding someone with a better work ethic that Raj, and [current A's hitting coach Jim Skaalen] is obviously doing a heck of a job with him," Van Burkleo said. "But look at how many of his hits are to right field. He really uses that part of the field well now, and that's something that really makes me feel good about all the time we put in together. "Raj has a tremendous aptitude for taking something he's told and putting it to use, and you're seeing the fruits of that labor. Whatever credit he's getting, it's richly deserved. If someone wants to give me a little sliver of it, fine. But really, it's all Raj. "And good for him. I love the kid."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.