Rajai Davis back with Indians with big memory of huge homer
By STEPHEN HAWKINS, AP Sports Writer
GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — The bat Rajai Davis used to hit one of the biggest home runs in Cleveland Indians history is nicely displayed in his office. The moment is deeply engraved in his memory.
Now the 37-year-old outfielder who hit that game-tying homer late in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series is back in the Indians spring training clubhouse after a season away.
“I just want to be able to deliver now, and I want to be able to help us win a World Series,” Davis said Sunday, a day after signing a minor league deal. “That’s my goal, that’s my mission, and I’m going to do everything in my ability in preparing to do that.”
In that Game 7 two seasons ago, Davis hit a two-run homer with two outs in the eighth inning off Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman. But the Indians then lost that season-ending game in 10 innings.
Davis led the American League with 43 stolen bases in 134 games in 2016. He had a reunion with Oakland in free agency last year before being traded midseason to Boston, hitting a combined .235 with 29 stolen bases in 117 games. He is a career .264 hitter with 394 steals since his 2006 big league debut with Pittsburgh.
“You get to really see the kind of energy he brings,” catcher Yan Gomes said. “He brings a smile to the ballclub every day, and he brings in a lot of experience, a big threat on the bases. … Really excited to have him back here.”
General manager Mike Chernoff said the “emotional tie” that the Indians will always have with Davis was an important part of the deal. But the GM was quick to say that it was also about what Davis did consistently in Cleveland in his only previous season there.
“This is a guy that’s a great presence in the clubhouse, who added a lot of complementary skills to the team and got a lot of playing time that year, was able to step in and fill a big role for us,” Chernoff said. “It means a lot both in the potential of what he can do on the field as he competes for that spot, but also what he means for the guys in the clubhouse here.”
Describing himself as energized, healthy and ready to go, Davis said he’s focused on what he needs to do to prepare to help the Indians in whatever way he can, and not focused on having to win a roster spot. Melvin Upton Jr. is also a veteran right-handed outfielder in camp on a minor league deal. Cleveland lost outfielder Austin Jackson to free agency and All-Star Michael Brantley has been limited by injury problems the last two years.
Davis said there were conversations all offseason about returning to Cleveland, but acknowledged that it was a challenge waiting out a slow-moving free agent market.
“I knew I was going to go somewhere. I’m just glad it was here,” Davis said. “I’m just glad that it worked out where I was able to come back here, and have the opportunity that they’re giving me.”
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