MLB Insider: Davis is Tigers' good luck charm

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

A funny thing happens when Rajai Davis finds his name in the starting lineup.

The Tigers win. And win. And win.

Entering Thursday night's game against the Angels — a game in which Davis was set to bat leadoff — the Tigers were a remarkable 18-5 in games Davis has started. That means they were 10-15 in games he didn't start.

Pretty fascinating, really.

Now, some of that statistic is deceiving. After all, Davis starts against almost all the left-handed pitchers, and the Tigers, with their right-handed-heavy lineup, naturally do quite well against the southpaws.

But Davis actually, entering Thursday, had started one more game against right-handed pitching.

So maybe that stat isn't so fluky, after all.

"That's not bad, huh?" Davis said this month, chuckling at the little factoid.

Davis, 34, has turned out be another of Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski's home-run signings. At the winter meetings in 2013, Detroit inked the little-known speedster to a modest two-year, $10-million deal. There was more fanfare when the Tigers announced they'd start selling the poutine hot dog.

Davis, of course, has more than earned his keep — on the bases, at the plate, on defense, and in the clubhouse.

In fact, he has been such a key part of the Tigers the last two years, they might make him a top priority for an extension this winter — even with bigger names like David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria set for free-agency.

"He's awesome, man," J.D. Martinez was saying the other day. "We all know what he can do on the the field, but off the field, the way he is in the clubhouse, he's so positive. You can be up there and you can be saying, 'Dang, Raj, I (stink) right now,' and he says, 'Well, you're gonna be good today!'

"He's a great person to feed off."

Davis exudes positivity, from the minute he walks into the clubhouse till the moment he leaves. A lot of that's just his personality. A lot of that's his faith, which is so strong, during his free time, he doesn't watch TV or movies — he spends time practicing that faith, and often with his wife and young child (another kid is on the way).

Days he's not playing, Davis, almost always smiling, is walking up and down the dugout handing out words of encouragement.

And days he is starting, well, you know the numbers by now.

"He's been phenomenal for us all year," said Anthony Gose, who got to know Davis when the two burners played together in Toronto. "He gets on the field and he does things that 99 percent of guys in baseball can't do. He can hit the ball on the ground and beat it out, he can steal a base off anybody at any time. I'll throw my money on Raj at any point."

That's mighty high praise from Gose, who, is also considered one of the fastest guys in the game.

But it's Davis who leads the team in steals, with 11, and he's been caught just two times.

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus called his speed (and Gose's) a huge weapon, not just because they can beat out infield hits or steal bases, but their speed, regardless if they're running, also distracts opposing pitchers.

That, typically, helps the hitter at the plate.

Davis does a lot of things to help his team win. He's a much better hitter than he was in Toronto, where he was pull-happy — which is natural at Rogers Centre. He's hit huge home runs as a Tiger. He beats out infield hits, even ones to first base, like he did earlier this month to kickstart a big rally. He is good for a sacrifice fly, as he turned in during the first inning Tuesday for the Tigers' only run in a win over the A's. His defense is darn good, too, most notable this year when he threw out a big runner at second in the ninth inning of a win over the Cardinals.

Simply put, Davis does so many things to help the Tigers win — even if he's not the biggest name or the best-paid. And even on days he goes hitless, he still contributes.

"He can have an 0-for-4 night, but his energy, just the passion that he brings to the ballgame, that's an uplifting thing to a ballclub," James McCann said. "That's a tough guy to have in the lineup to have to face."

And then when he gets on base, forget about it.

He's 47-of-60 on steals on a Tiger, with the much better percentage this year, his age-34 season.

Ausmus, in fact, believes Davis is becoming a better base-stealer with age, even though, clearly, nobody gets faster from age 34 to 35.

Davis, for his part, agrees with the assessment.

"It's more wisdom," Davis said. "More knowledge about what pitchers are trying to do, what they're out there doing, what they have tendencies to do.

"It's knowing all of those things and putting it all together."

Davis sure has put it all together as a Tiger, which might just lead to him being a Tiger well past 2015.

Lester is less

Justin Verlander is a bad hitter. He freely admits it.

But there's one pitcher who's worse.

Cubs ace Jon Lester set a major-league record Wednesday for most at-bats in a career without a hit — 0-for-59.

There wasn't much doubt he'd break Joey Hamilton's record, since he had to face Nationals ace Max Scherzer. Lester went 0-for-2.

Before this season, Lester spent his entire career in the American League and hit sparingly.

"One day," Lester told reporters.

Prince leads charge

Remember when the Rangers were bad? It was barely two weeks ago.

Written off before the season — and really written off when they started so poorly — Texas has won eight of 10 games and is just below .500.

Prince Fielder, who missed most of last season after neck surgery following his trade from the Tigers, is scorching, with an OPS over 1.000; the starting pitching is getting it done; and and they're welcoming back Josh Hamilton.

"There's a lot of confidence in here now," first baseman Mitch Moreland told the Dallas Morning News.

Diamond digits

0: Hits allowed by the starting pitchers in Wednesday's Tigers-A's game. Alex Wilson went three innings for Detroit, a reliever serving as an emergency starter, and Scott Kazmir went three for Oakland, leaving with a fatigued left shoulder

0-5: Kyle Ryan's record at Triple A Toledo. On Wednesday, he got the win for the Tigers in his first appearance in the majors

5/28/1957: Tigers legend Kirk Gibson was born in Waterford. There's still no word when Gibson will return to the Fox Sports Detroit booth. He hasn't be on air since Opening Day, before he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease

Quote of the week

"It's kind of cool when you have your whole team on your side."

— Mike Aviles, Indians utilityman, on his teammates shaving their heads to show support for his 4-year-old daughter, who was diagnosed with leukemia

Three up ...

Montreal: City leaders met with commissioner Rob Manfred on Thursday, perhaps starting the process of bringing a team back.

Tigers bullpen: Awful for so many years, it's actually good this season that it beat the A's on Wednesday using only relievers.

Giants: And you thought they only did well in even-numbered years? Hunter Pence is healthy and the pitching is rolling.

... three down

Reds: There were hopes they'd make one more playoff push with this rotation, but they've been a bust.

Rick Porcello: He got a four-year, $82.5 million extension before his first start, and has been pretty bad through 10 starts with the Red Sox.

Astros fans: Wake up. Houston is is in first place for the first time in years. The average attendance is 22,614.