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Make room for Davis With Oates' delicate handling, slugger's return only can help Orioles


Johnny Oates makes this work. Right now he doesn't need Glenn Davis, not the way the Orioles are playing. But Davis says he's finally healthy, so off the disabled list he comes.

It's a delightful problem, yet a delicate one too. Rest assured, Oates will resolve it neatly. Handling players is one of his many strengths. Besides, this scenario isn't that complicated.

Davis will play a limited role initially, but when he returns to first base, it probably will be at the expense of designated hitter Sam Horn, not Randy Milligan or David Segui.

The strange part is, Oates doesn't need to tinker with his first-place club, which has won six straight games and 14 of 17. The Orioles' 17-8 start is their best since 1970, when they won the World Series.

To think, Davis has played only one game, and this juggernaut is on a pace to score 862 runs -- a whopping figure, considering the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers were the last team to reach 900.

All right, let's not get carried away.

The question is not, Glenn Who?

The question is, Glenn Where?

In case you've forgotten, Davis is a potential 35-homer man, even with his late start. In case you've forgotten, he's earning $2.865 million this season, guaranteed.

Disruption or not, the moment he's ready, he plays. This isn't a utility infielder we're talking about. This is one of the game's most feared sluggers -- when he's capable of swinging a bat.

"My role is going to change, but I can deal with that," Milligan said after last night's 8-5 victory over Texas at Camden Yards. "I'm happy to have Glenn back. He makes our lineup even stronger."

Asked Oates, "How can it hurt? He's the type of player you want. He's an All-Star caliber player. You've got to be crazy not to look forward to him coming back."

That is, unless you're Horn, who is batting just .214 with one homer and four RBIs after going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts last night.

Milligan's .218 average isn't much better, but he's the one with three homers, 12 RBIs and a .368 on-base percentage. Horn is the one with a club-high 17 strikeouts and one hit in his last 19 at-bats.

Those trends could reverse before Davis is ready to play nine innings, but even though Horn is the club's only true lefthanded power threat, Milligan deserves to be in the lineup every day.

As for the immediate future, Oates planned to start Segui today against Nolan Ryan, but that was only because Milligan was 0-for-13 lifetime off Ryan with eight strikeouts.

Segui soon will return to the outfield, filling the role vacated by the demoted Luis (1-for-20) Mercedes. Segui, too, deserves to play, after batting .406 in nine starts when Milligan was injured.

For all that, Horn need not fret, for Oates insisted, "Nobody's an odd man out for any length of time." The proof is how he's managing, creating at-bats for every player on his roster.

Take second base, where Oates has squeezed a combined 17 RBIs out of Bill Ripken and Mark McLemore. His plan is to continue playing both as long as they produce. Who can argue?

Role players like McLemore appreciate the opportunity. Oates, of course, was once such a part-timer himself, and he uses as his model the late Dick Howser, his manager with the New York Yankees in 1980.

Oates appeared in only 39 games that season, but Howser spoke to him virtually every day, if only for a short time. Today's players require even more stroking, and Oates obliges.

As Davis said, "He's fair. He's just. He loves his players. He's the type of guy you'd do anything for. You'd go through a brick wall for that man."

Whoa there, Glenn, you're just getting over that strained muscle under your left armpit. In fact, you're actually sounding confident that the worst might finally be over.

"Eventually, things will come your way," Davis said. "I don't want any sympathy, but I'm proud of myself, the way I've battled. I've developed a lot of character and patience."

The club's success, he said, "made it a whole lot easier for me. It sure is good to see everyone having fun, everyone being able to contribute. I hope I can help, too. I know there's going to be a time when I help a lot."

Such problems, this team has.

Glenn Davis is back.

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