ARLINGTON, Texas -- It was as if the season were starting anew for Glenn Davis, who had worked and waited nearly four months to return to the Baltimore Orioles starting lineup.
He rejoined the club Sunday night and arrived at Arlington Stadium yesterday afternoon, hoping to get down to business as usual as quickly as possible after missing more than 100 games with a neck injury.
"I just want to get back in a routine," Davis said. "I think the most important thing is to get focused on the game. The last thing I want to do is get distracted."
Davis chose an interesting time to resume his major-league career. He returned from the disabled list just in time to face Texas Rangers ace Nolan Ryan, who also had just come back from an injury.
Ryan, a former teammate of Davis' with the Houston Astros, was making his first start in three weeks, but his reputation as baseball's most overpowering pitcher was not seriously harmed. Davis had been out since late April with a damaged spinal accessory nerve in his neck. Due to the debilitating nature of the injury, his reputation as one of baseball's most intimidating hitters will have to be rebuilt.
"It just feels good to be back, and I'm happy I'm here," Davis said. "I thank God for the opportunity to play again."
Manager John Oates is thankful, too, though it is far too late for Davis to help the Orioles compete for a division title. Davis returned to the starting lineup as the designated hitter last night, going 1-for-3 with a walk. His single came off Rangers reliever Terry Mathews. He likely will return to first base tonight.
"We talked about it this morning," Oates said. "He said, 'I'm ready to do whatever you need.' I decided to DH him tonight and probably play him at first base with Milligan DHing tomorrow."
Oates moved him right into the cleanup spot, where he would have been all year under better circumstances. He was acquired to hit behind Cal Ripken but spent only 12 games in the lineup before the seriousness of the neck injury was discovered.
"I thought about dropping him to sixth," Oates said. "But hey, why not put him right in there where he's going to hit and let him do what he will?"
There will be a lot of eyes focused on Davis in the next six weeks. The Orioles will have only that time to evaluate his recovery and decide whether to re-sign him at the end of the season. The same goes for any team that might consider signing him as a free agent.
Even Davis needs to know. He needs to know if the four months of grueling rehabilitation have been sufficient to return him to the top of his game. His shoulder was so debilitated by the nerve injury that he probably won't have full strength back until December.
But he has reason to rejoice. The first doctor to evaluate the injury advised him to undergo surgery. There was speculation that his season -- perhaps his career -- was over. What followed was the Glenn Davis medical mystery tour, which included stops in New York, Cleveland and Los Angeles, and the rigorous rehabilitation program that brought him to this point.
Davis played seven games for the Class AA Hagerstown Suns to get his legs back under him. He batted .250 with one home run and three RBI and declared himself ready to face major-league pitching. It is not known whether he was aware that Ryan would be the opposing pitcher when he told the club he was ready to play.
"It wasn't by chance," said Davis, who was 1-for-4 with two walks in the two games Ryan pitched against Baltimore in April. "It just worked out that way."
The veteran first baseman had been building up to this game for nearly four months, and still it seemed like there wasn't enough time to get ready.
"I've got 400 things to do," Davis said. "It's been so long that it's tough to get back into a routine."
His return figures to disrupt the routine of several other players, most notably veteran outfielder/DH Dwight Evans. Milligan will be the everyday designated hitter when Davis plays regularly at first base, leaving Evans and left-handed DH Sam Horn with reduced roles.
Davis already has displaced veteran pitcher Roy Smith, who was outrighted to the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings to make room for him on the roster.
Smith was 5-4 with a 5.60 ERA in 17 appearances (14 starts) after his contract was purchased from the Red Wings on May 24.