After two pickoff throws to first, Rajai Davis took off. He put his head down and the throw from the Mets’ catcher was well late. With a lead as big as the one Davis had, in combination with his quickness, there was no way he would be caught.
That stolen base on April 16 was Davis’s fifth of the season, in only the team’s ninth game, the most by a Tribe player in the team’s first nine games since Kenny Lofton stole six in 1998. Davis would swipe 50 bags if he continues on this pace, a personal best.
The last Indians player to steal more than 25 bases in a season was Jason Kipnis, who stole 31 in 2012 and 30 in 2013.
The 35-year-old Davis will not reach 50 steals this year, but the steals this early in the season are a great sign. Davis stole only 18 bases in 2014, but in the six years prior, he averaged 42 a year. His career success rate coming into the year was 79%, so certainly he knows when he can steal a base. As he told Cleveland.com’s Zach Meisel, “I just try to take advantage of the opportunities I do get.”
When the Indians signed Davis, they knew they were getting speed, but I’m not sure they expected this much. What they did expect was the impact he would have on the rest of the offense. His added speed worries pitchers when he gets on base. After two pick off attempts by Matt Harvey and the stolen base, Kipnis smashed a double, scoring Davis.
Davis does not just add speed to a lineup that sorely needed it, he also adds veteran leadership. The eleven-year vet has postseason experience, playing in the ALDS with the Tigers in 2014. That experience can help the club looking to make a deep October run, but one that has never made it past September, except an AL Wild Card play-in game in 2013.
Tribe fans may remember hearing about another over 30 outfielder with speed. Though the Michael Bourn experiment failed, he was expected to take on a full time role with the club. With the return of Michael Brantley to the lineup, Davis will probably only be used in a platoon role. The righty sports a career .293/.348/.444 slash line against lefties, while only .257/.299/.360 versus righties. Francona will use Davis in center versus lefties, with prospect Tyler Naquin starting versus righties. Davis can also be used as a pinch-hitter and certainly as a pinch-runner.
For Tribe fans who were worried about the outfield in Brantley’s absence, Davis assuaged those worries. His .269/.321/.481 slash line in 16 games heading into action on Monday, to go along with an uncharacteristic two home runs and the five steals, shows he will be an important part of the lineup for the rest of the year. Plus, now with “Leadoff Hitter” Carlos Santana, he won’t be pressured into increasing his career .316 OBP.
Photo: AP Photo/Jim Mone