Time is running out on his first full pro season, and whatever chance J.J. Davis had to finish an up-and-down year on a high note may have been lost.
The Pirates' 1997 first-round draft choice joined the GreenJackets last week for his second stint with the club this season. But Davis has a severe case of tonsilitis and could be lost for the South Atlantic League divisional playoff series, which begin Monday on Macon.
"It's very disappointing because J.J. had made strides lately and we were really excited about having him back for the playoffs," Jackets manager Marty Brown said. "He still could be back in the next day or two, and we're hopeful he will."
Davis was slated to open the season with the Jackets before an injury in spring training hampered his progress. He joined the club in late April but struggled, batting .194 with three home runs and 10 RBI in 28 games. He was demoted to short-season Erie in June.
The Pirates obviously had hoped for more from the 6-foot-6 former California high school star after using the eighth-overall selection on him and dishing out a $1.6 million signing bonus.
Finally, after his struggles continued in June and early July at Erie, the 19-year-old outfielder began to show his promise. With a big August, Davis raised his average to .270 and finished up with eight home runs and 39 RBI in 52 games with the SeaWolves, prompting his promotion back to Augusta for the stretch run and the playoffs.
Brown says it is easy to see the difference in Davis, on and off the field, and would love his bat in the lineup.
"It's good to see him again, he is a good addition for us for the playoffs," Brown said. "He's improved in a lot of different areas. He's definitely much more ready to play at this level. I don't think statistics for a guy that young are that important.
"Obviously, the organization would like to see numbers because of their investment in him, but the big thing for him is to learn and improve right now and not get caught up in numbers."
Along with Davis and Gray, Ga., native Rico Washington, the Jackets added former Erie pitchers Stephen Sparks and Tony Pavlovich to the roster.
Sparks, a hard-throwing right-hander from Mobile, Ala., joined the club in Savannah last week, and will start Game 1 of the best-of-3 playoff series in Macon. Sparks was 2-7 with a 4.43 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 63 innings for the SeaWolves this season, and is 0-1 with a 6.23 ERA in two starts for the Jackets.
Pavlovich, a native of Thomasville, Ga., is a submarine-style right-handed reliever. Originally drafted by Milwaukee out of Middle Georgia College, the 23-year-old was released by the Brewers in 1997. He joined the Jackets on Saturday, after going 0-2 with a 1.64 ERA in eight relief appearances at Erie.
DRAWING CARD: After three straight seasons with a slight decline in attendance, the Jackets have drawn more fans to Lake Olmstead Stadium this season then in 1997.
The club was fourth in the league in attendance this season with 156,006 fans through Friday's game, and with two regular-season home dates left, there is still a chance the club could pass Hickory and finish third in the league. They would have to average about 4,000 fans Saturday and Sunday night to do so. In 63 openings through Friday, the Jackets were averaging 2,476 fans a game.
The Jackets drew an Augusta-record 171,000 fans during its inaugural season at The Lake in 1995, then drew 162,000 in 1996.
PLAYOFF TICKETS: There are still good seats available for the South Atlantic League Divisional Playoffs at Lake Olmstead Stadium. The Jackets won the Southern Division first-half title and will travel to face the second-half champion in Game 1 of the divisional playoffs on Aug. 31. Game 2 will be played at The Lake on Sept. 1 and, if necessary, the Jackets will host a decisive Game 3 of the series on Sept. 2.
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