First things first: Davis is healthy, plans to stay so Oft-injured slugger knows Orioles, Baines need him fit

February 21, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Glenn Davis does not like to be the center of attention, but he arrived at Twin Lakes Park yesterday to find that his physical condition already is one of the major preoccupations of spring training.

Will he be able to play first base regularly this year?

He cannot say that with any assurance yet, but the Orioles have built a blueprint for the 1993 season on the assumption that a strenuous off-season conditioning program will put him back in the field full time.

The trade that brought designated hitter Harold Baines from the Oakland Athletics was predicated on a healthy Glenn Davis. The decision to release first baseman Randy Milligan in December was based -- at least in part -- on the likelihood that Davis would return to first base.

Two years of injuries have left Davis hesitant to make any predictions, but manager Johnny Oates has got the whole thing mapped out.

"If Glenn can play 100 games at first -- which is only a little more than 50 percent of the time -- and Baines plays 25 games in the outfield, I can get Glenn into 135 games at first base and DH and Baines would play 135 games," Oates said. "I would be very happy with that. The key to the whole scenario is Glenn at first. The whole equation has to be reworked if he can't go out and play first."

This is not a new scenario. The Orioles traded three top prospects to the Houston Astros in the hope that Davis would help them become a contender in 1991, but he suffered a freakish neck injury in spring training and played in only 49 games. He arrived in spring training last year hoping to start anew, but an early-season back injury forced him into a full-time designated hitter role.

Why should this year be any different? Because Davis spent the off-season under the tutelage of conditioning guru Mackie Shilstone, who designed a rigorous rehabilitation and conditioning program aimed at returning Davis to the physical prowess that once made him one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League.

Davis never hit fewer than 20 home runs in his six seasons with the Astros, but he hit just 10 in 1991 and 13 in 398 at-bats last year. He is entering the second year of the two-year contract that at the time made him the highest-paid player in Orioles history, so it would be an opportune time to turn in a representative performance.

No one doubts his ability, but the string of nagging -- and sometimes mysterious -- injuries has left his ability to bounce back an open question. He has fallen out of the picture early in each of his first two seasons with the Orioles. Who can say that won't happen again?

"That's something I haven't had any control over," said Davis, 31. "I came to Baltimore hoping to start a new life and it turned into my worst nightmare. That part of it I can't control. You ask me if I'm going to be healthy. I don't know, but I didn't come here to get hurt. I came here to play.

"I feel a lot of people have pointed the finger at me and placed blame, as if it is my fault that I kept getting hurt. That's not true."

Davis reported to spring training several days early. He spent part of his first day in camp working out at first base with new coach Mike Ferraro. He also met with Oates to discuss his spring regimen. It appears that everyone is on the same wavelength, something that could not be said a year ago.

"I believe he's doing everything in his power to get ready to play first base this summer," Oates said. "He has traveled. He has gone through a strenuous conditioning program. He is on a maintenance program. The rest is out of our hands."

General manager Roland Hemond apparently is a believer. He sent two minor-league prospects to the Oakland A's for Baines, who can't be the full-time designated hitter unless Davis is a regular first baseman. The deal was struck just days after Hemond met with Davis over lunch to discuss the 1993 season.

"He said that it was his goal to play first base and he was doing everything possible to be at first base," Hemond said. "That helped me, as far as getting Harold Baines. If he's at first base, we get a better utilization of Baines. If there had been a question, we might have stayed with Milligan and [David] Segui."

If Davis again is in the eye of the hurricane, he is trying to keep the pressure off himself. He wants to have a great season. Who doesn't? But he is trying to keep his focus on more team-oriented goals.

"Every player who comes into camp has that [a big season] in the back of his mind," Davis said. "But what I'm looking forward to is the completion of the saga of the Baltimore Orioles. I don't think we had the talent that the Toronto Blue Jays did last year, but we almost went the distance on heart and soul and unity.

"I feel we have a much better ballclub this year. We've improved from last year and I believe the Blue Jays have lost some of their ability to win games."

The return of Davis as a two-way player would further enhance the Orioles' ability to compete for the American League East title. He knows that. The club knows that. It's just a matter of staying on the right path.

"We've discussed that," Oates said. "The goal is to have Glenn ready on April 5 [Opening Day]. There is no reason for him to rush to get ready to play in early March. We want him ready when it counts."

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