Before the Orioles took the field on Thursday for the final game of their homestand, manager Buck Showalter responded to a reporter’s question by confirming that Chris Davis could play first base again this season. He also noted that Davis might play third or left field as part of a double-switch, one of those moves commonly made in National League ballparks.
Showalter’s point was that Davis shouldn’t be regarded exclusively as a designated hitter despite making 17 starts in that role, one more than runner-up Nick Johnson, who nowadays is restricted to occasional pinch-hitting duty.
(The Orioles are 12-5 with Davis as their DH, but I digress...)
Nobody said a word about right field. It was just assumed that, if the situation warranted it, Davis would grab an outfielder’s glove and go directly to left, as if he’d be easier to hide in that corner or as if the responsibilities weren’t as taxing.
Of course, you know what happened last night in Atlanta. Davis made his first appearance in right since 2006 in Single-A Spokane, and his diving catch has been replayed all night and this morning. To call it “sensational” would be selling it short.
(Davis has never played short, but I still digress...)
In the last five seasons, Nick Markakis played 161, 157, 161, 160 and 160 games in right field. We’ve sort of taken it for granted until his abdominal surgery in January that raised doubts about his availability for opening day.
Markakis was fine for the opener and started 48 games at his normal position until going on the disabled list with a broken hamate bone. Davis was the sixth player to start in right field for the Orioles, joining Endy Chavez (six games), Ryan Flaherty (six), Bill Hall (one) and Steve Pearce (one). The only position that’s experienced more turnover is left, where eight players have made starts.
Adam Jones has started all 63 games in center. The madness stops in the middle.
Showalter has talked about the value of flexibility on his roster, but I’m not sure he intended to use this many different players at the corners. Nolan Reimold’s herniated disk in his neck limited him to 14 starts, and he’s still not close to coming back after a second MRI failed to explain the lingering weakness and tingling in his left arm.
Each game brings certain lineup challenges for Showalter, and that’s especially true without use of the designated hitter. He’ll continue to find creative ways to keep Davis’ bat in the lineup, which could mean another start in right field tonight against Braves right-hander Brandon Beachy, who’s sporting a 1.98 ERA in 12 outings.
Davis hasn’t faced Beachy, who’s made only one start against the Orioles. Markakis is 3-for-3 with a double and RBI, but that doesn’t do the team much good tonight.
We no longer can take it for granted.