First baseman Chris Davis talks about how special it is to play on Opening Day. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
Whether or not Orioles manager Buck Showalter hits enigmatic slugger Chris Davis atop the batting order come Opening Day on Thursday against the Minnesota Twins — as he's done for the past few weeks of spring training and has threatened to do when the games count — isn't just about who hits where.
It's clear to Showalter and Davis that regardless of where the big first baseman hits, it's about spurring a mentality change after he's struggled to consistently help the team at the plate for the past two seasons.
"I think the batting order sometimes is made way too much out of, but in this case, I think it's something that has a little more bearing," Showalter said.
Neither he nor Davis would show his hand about what would happen when. Showalter has also said this spring that his three best hitters would occupy the three top spots, and that trio likely includes Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop and Trey Mancini.
Yet there was Davis, who needed to get extra at-bats in spring training after missing time with elbow soreness, batting atop the lineup whenever the Orioles' regulars played. Showalter would only say Wednesday that it's a "possibility," and regarded the idea as having “conventional unconventionality.”
"It's as much his [idea] as ours," Showalter said. "It's something we've talked about."
Davis explained why he wants to do it, why he believes he's suited for it and why he's embraced it now that it's a possibility.
"I think even if I hadn't have been put in the leadoff spot, that was something I've worked a lot on this offseason," Davis said. "I talked to you guys last year at the end of the season about making some adjustments mechanically, making some adjustments mentally, and I think that goes into it.
"I'm tired of hitting .200. You're going to find a way to combat that, and that's part of the game. If they're going to give you the entire left side of the infield, then I'm going to make them pay for it. We have enough guys in that lineup that can do damage where the more guys we can get on, the better off we're going to be as a team."
Even with a low batting average in recent seasons, Davis has walked pretty consistently, and 67 of his 111 home runs in the past three seasons have been with the bases empty, so there's something to be said about his mindset in those situations. A leadoff batter is guaranteed only once to bat leadoff, but Davis wants to use the leadoff title, if it's his, to be more aggressive.
"I think that was going to be the case no matter where I was batting," Davis said. "That was something that I wanted to kind of change going into this season, no matter where I was hitting in the order. I think that being in the leadoff spot, it makes it a little more intriguing, but I think the reason that I was put in the leadoff spot was my ability to see some pitches, my ability to get on base, and like I've said, it's kind of a lost art.
"I've never led off in my life, other than the spring training games, and to be honest with you, the first time he did that I thought he was just messing with me. I've been trying to get him to put me there for seven years. I thought, 'Now he's just giving me a hard time.' But I don't know. We'll see how it goes. I'm excited about it."
Showalter sees it as a way to get Davis back contributing, something the Orioles will need wherever he hits in the lineup.
"We missed him, when he wasn't on the field last year and when he wasn't productive," Showalter said. "He knows that. He's a driven guy. ... He knows what the job description is, and it's got nothing to do with the [financial] commitment necessarily, but it does play into it where he's concerned."