Sam Horn has made only four starts since the All-Star break, but he'll replace Glenn Davis as the Orioles' designated hitter tonight. It would be one thing if Davis were merely slumping. But he is hurting physically as well.
Davis revealed last night that he is suffering from a strained neck ligament. He doesn't believe the injury is serious, or related to any of his past ailments. Still, it's forcing manager Johnny Oates to make a significant lineup change.
The Orioles need a healthy, productive DH for the stretch drive, and now they must turn to a player who is 1-for-28 since July 5. Horn no doubt is rusty, but Davis said he might need three days -- two games plus an off-day -- to recover.
"I was hoping I could play through it, but I think it's affecting me," Davis said after emerging from the trainer's room following last night's 6-2 loss to New York in 13 innings. "You could tell yesterday. And you could tell today."
Davis is 0-for-9 in the past two games after going 4-for-10 with three RBI in the previous two. He said the problem has gradually worsened since first surfacing 10 to 14 days ago, to the point where he is experiencing headaches and mild dizziness, and can barely turn his neck to the left side.
Minor or not, the injury raises all the familiar questions about Davis, who is the Orioles' highest-paid player this season at a salary of $2.865 million. But as poorly as he's hitting, Oates might have considered giving Horn more playing time anyway.
Davis is the Orioles' cleanup man, but these days he's a singles hitter. Everyone knows Cal Ripken has gone 68 games without a homer. Davis has hit only one in his last 29. The Orioles went 8-1 on their West Coast trip even though he batted only .179.
Oates keeps waiting for the hitter who once terrorized National League pitching, but after starting 47 times in 50 games, Davis suddenly appears capable of only one hard swing per night. "It's time to get Sam some at-bats," Oates said.
jTC When will this saga end? Last season, Davis missed 105 games with an unrelated neck injury that caused weakness in his right shoulder. This season he has missed 53 games and played first base only twice, due to a strained muscle in his left side and other nagging problems.
"The injuries have affected me," Davis said. "I've had good times, I've had bad times. But I've been playing through it. I'm much improved from the beginning of the season. I think that's obvious. But there are still some [physical] things that bother me."
Oates takes what he can get -- Davis is batting .267 with 10 homers and 39 RBI -- but perhaps he took too big a risk burying Horn. Davis isn't going anywhere, not with a no-trade clause and another year left on his contract. Yet given his injury history, it's critical to keep a backup sharp.
Horn has declined from 23 homers in 317 at-bats last season to five in 154 at-bats this season. He's completely one-dimensional as a hitter, and effective only when used regularly. A 6-foot-5, 247-pound slugger doesn't regain his batting stroke overnight.
Of course, Horn can't play the field, so his at-bats come primarily as a DH. The Orioles can leave him unprotected without fear of losing him in the NL expansion draft. Even in the AL, few teams can afford to carry a player in such a limited role.
Somehow, the Orioles find a way, and right now it's a good thing. Horn won't do any worse than Davis in the cleanup spot, if that's where Oates puts him. Chris Hoiles has four of the Orioles' last nine homers. He, Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux can't be the entire offense.
"Sam's a gamer -- he's ready to go out and try to help us win," Randy Milligan said. "But it's been a long time since he's been in the lineup steadily. He'll be ready to go. The thing is though, he hasn't played but two ballgames in the past three weeks."
Now he figures to play the next two against the Yankees, facing Scott Sanderson tonight and Bob Wickman tomorrow. A big hit in either game, and he might remain in the lineup this weekend against Milwaukee, regardless of Davis' condition.
It's crunch time.
The Orioles need a healthy Glenn Davis.
They're settling for a rusty Sam Horn.