Before Rajai Davis even came to bat Thursday, it seemed pretty obvious that he shouldn’t have started Game 1 of the ALDS against the Orioles. In the second inning, he was slow to charge Jonathan Schoop’s single to center, allowing Ryan Flaherty to take third base. The next batter, Nick Markakis, dropped a single into right-center that Davis made no effort to chase after. It was an uncatchable ball anyway, but Davis would have run toward it had he been anything close to 100 percent.
Of course, it’s not uncommon to see stars playing at less than 100 percent in October. It’s hard to forget a hobbled Miguel Cabrera gutting it out against the Red Sox last year. But Davis is no star. Davis was signed last winter to play left field against left-handers, which is the role he was born for. In the wake of the Austin Jackson trade this summer, Davis became an everyday center fielder, a huge stretch for him. Besides not being very good in center, Davis just doesn’t hit right-handers. He finished at .247/.290/.327 in 312 at-bats against righties this year. In 2013, he had a .594 OPS against righties. He hasn’t had a .300 OBP against them since 2010.
Even if Davis were 100 percent, he should have been on the bench tonight. Left-handed hitter Ezequiel Carrera doesn’t have a lot going for him offensively, but he’s still at least as good as Davis against righties and he’s the superior defensive player. That Davis was 50-60 percent and still started over Carrera is a black mark against manager Brad Ausmus.
Now the problem for the Tigers is that they do actually face a lefty, Wei-Yin Chen, in Friday’s Game 2. But Davis looked practically unplayable in center during Thursday’s loss. Fortunately, he didn’t have any tough chances. Outside from Flaherty going first to third in the second, only Nelson Cruz doing the same on a similar play in the eighth can be blamed on Davis’s leg. However, if the Tigers try to stick him out there again, the potential is there for it to cost them in a big way Friday. And if they don’t, then they’re practically giving away a spot in the order by playing Carrera or Don Kelly against a lefty.