SARASOTA, Fla. -- If this was Opening Day, Glenn Davis would be in the Orioles' lineup. But to make sure he'll be physically fit April 8, the slugging first baseman is taking a cautious approach to his preparation.
Sidelined with a strained neck muscle, Davis has taken batting practice the last three days and swung the bat with authority. But he's still not completely recovered and will miss at least another game, and possibly more before returning to the preseason lineup.
"If we were in the regular season right now, I'd be out there playing," said Davis, 29. "I probably would've missed a couple of games.
"I'm looking forward to getting back on the field, but I think the most important thing everyone wants to see right now is that it [the neck] is completely healed," said Davis. "I'd rather see it like that.
"When I start playing again will depend on Frank [Robinson], the club, the trainers and how I feel. This [batting practice] is not like playing in a game.
"When you're under game conditions, you automatically turn it up a notch," said Davis. "You see a good fastball and you want to take a decent rip. The concern right now is to make sure we get rid of all the swelling."
After returning from a two-day trip to Florida's east coast, where the Orioles lost a pair of games to the Yankees and Mets, Robinson said he would not push Davis to return. "There's no sense rushing him," Robinson said. "When he tells me he feels ready to go out there, that's when he'll start playing again."
That is the identical approach Robinson is taking with veteran outfielder Dwight Evans, who has only six at-bats, all as a designated hitter, and isn't scheduled to play the outfield for another week.
Davis said his injury actually hasn't been that much of a handicap. "I'm not known for my spring trainings," he said. "It usually takes me a little longer to get going than some players. This hasn't affected my conditioning or my mobility. I can do all those things. I'm in good shape."
Davis, who spent his first six major-league seasons in Houston before being traded to the Orioles in January, played in the Orioles' first six exhibitions (14 at-bats), all against American League clubs. The Orioles have four straight games coming up against AL teams, then have only four more before heading north for two final exhibitions against Boston April 6 and 7 in Washington.
"I've asked a lot of questions [about American League pitchers], but you can only learn so much that way," said Davis. "For hitters, for myself, the only way to find out is to see them. But I don't think there can be that much difference between the pitchers in this league and the National League. There's only so many pitches they can throw."
Davis said he is more excited about the Orioles' possibilities this year than he ever was with the Astros. "In 1986 when we won the division, I was real excited about that team," he said. "There was the same kind of enthusiasm during spring training that we have here.
"But to tell you the truth," said Davis, "of all the years I've played, I feel better about this club than any other I've played for. We have the potential to do a lot of things. We have a tremendous offense, a good defense, a good mixture of veterans and good pitchers to go along with that.
"That's not just a spring training cliche," said Davis. "I believe that and I think everybody else does too. If anybody's not thinking like that I don't think he'd fit very well on this club and should probably think about going someplace else.
"The only thing that could set this club back would be injuries," said Davis, who wants to make sure he's not in that category when the season opens.
"If I'm going to have an injury, let it be now," he said. "At this point it really doesn't matter. I still have plenty of time. I'd rather make sure it is gone, and I think everybody else feels the same way."
Davis also let it be known that he has no desire for his contract status (he can be a free agent at the end of the year) to become an issue during the season. "I don't know what their thinking is," he said. "The time will come [to negotiate], but I'll let the club decide when is the right time.
"I realize we have a good club here and I don't want to do anything to disrupt it. This is too good a club to take the chance to disturb anything with talk about my contract. I have 80 other things on my mind now.
"When I came here, a new player with a top salary, it would have been easy for everybody to sit back and say 'let's see what he can do.' But they didn't do that -- they made me feel just like anybody else in this camp.
"I don't feel like I have to prove anything and all I want to do is concentrate on my job. I want to be able to help when other guys aren't going good and I hope they'll help when I'm not going good.
"I don't feel like I have a lot of pressure on me, that I have to do everything. I'm really relaxed here," said Davis.
He will be a lot more relaxed, and so will the Orioles, when he gets back on the playing field. But the move won't be rushed at the expense of risking a lingering injury.
Davis represents a huge investment in this season -- and very possibly a substantial down payment on the Orioles' future. But it's still too early to be in a hurry.