GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Francisco Lindor lit up when he saw Rajai Davis in the Indians' locker room on Saturday morning. They began slapping hands, going through the kind of high five that looks rehearsed. It has been two years since Davis donned a Cleveland uniform, but the familiarity was instantaneous
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Francisco Lindor lit up when he saw Rajai Davis in the Indians' locker room on Saturday morning. They began slapping hands, going through the kind of high five that looks rehearsed. It has been two years since Davis donned a Cleveland uniform, but the familiarity was instantaneous upon his return.
"It just feels right," Davis said. "It feels like home."
Davis went through a physical on Saturday to put the final touches on a Minor League contract with the Indians, who invited the veteran to big league camp with a shot at cracking the Opening Day roster. There are no guarantees, but Cleveland knows all too well what Davis -- the author of one of the most iconic home runs in franchise history -- brings to the table.
During the 2016 season, when the Indians won their first of two straight American League Central titles and reached the World Series, Davis brought energy to the clubhouse and the bases. His skills as a base thief were infectious for Cleveland's younger players, who also benefited from his veteran leadership.
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Davis and Melvin Upton Jr. (also in camp as a non-roster invitee) give Cleveland two possible solutions as a complementary right-handed outfielder capable of playing multiple spots. It is similar to the role that Austin Jackson earned with the Indians a year ago. It is also the primary job of Brandon Guyer, but he is currently rehabbing from left wrist surgery.
As things currently stand, the Tribe outfield projects to include Michael Brantley in left field, Bradley Zimmer in center and Lonnie Chisenhall in right. Brantley's status for Opening Day is questionable, however, as he is working his way back from October surgery on his right ankle. If Brantley is not ready, there is a chance that Jason Kipnis could be in the mix for at-bats in left field. Brantley, Zimmer, Chisenhall and Kipnis all hit from the left side.
"It seems like we're always in the hunt for a righty to come in and help out," Chisenhall said. "We have some great options here in the spring -- veteran guys. Raj did a great job for us in 2016. It's nice. I know my role on the team, and other guys are kind of up in the air for Opening Day, so we need good options. And we've got them."
Davis split last season between the A's and Red Sox, hitting .235/.293/.348 in 117 games, in which he had five home runs, 26 extra-base hits and 29 stolen bases. In 2016, Davis suited up for the Indians and led the AL with 43 steals in his 134 games. That year, he hit a career-high 12 home runs and recorded 23 doubles, 48 RBIs and 74 runs.
Led by Davis, the Indians paced the AL in stolen bases (134) and Fangraphs' baserunning rating (17.1) in 2016. Last season, Cleveland's stolen-base total dropped to 88 (ninth in the AL) and its BsR went down to 9.9 (fourth). Davis is 37 years old, but his speed has not slipped. Per Statcast™, Davis' Sprint Speed was 29.3 (11th in the Majors) in '17, compared to 28.4 (54th) in '16.
"I just bumped into him here and he looks like he's about 24 years old and in peak physical shape," Indians general manager Mike Chernoff said. "He does an unbelievable job of keeping himself in top shape. We saw that when he was here in '16, and he looks exactly the same. It's a real credit to him and how he goes about it."
Among Indians fans, Davis is most remembered for what he did in Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs.
In the eighth inning, Davis pulled a pitch from Albertin Chapman to left field for a two-run, game-tying shot that electrified Progressive Field. Davis hoisted an arm skyward and Cleveland's players poured out of the dugout in celebration of the home run. Throughout last year, fans who interacted with Davis would often bring up that homer.
"Everybody knew where they were, what they were doing at that exact moment when it was hit," Davis said with a smile. "It was really great to hear all year. I don't get tired of listening to it. It just brings new life, new energy."