Davis could be the answer for Tigers in center

Davis could be the answer for Tigers in center

DETROIT -- Before Rajai Davis got the first center-field start for the Tigers in the post-Austin Jackson era, he suggested center was easier for him than the corner outfield because he had more room to run.

"Less chance to run into the wall," he argued.

It figured, then, that three of the first six hitters Justin Verlander faced Friday night ended up driving the ball to center, sending Davis on the run. The third, Drew Stubbs, powered a ball that sent Davis scrambling to the warning track, more than 400 feet away from home plate, before corralling the ball.

"That was a close one," Davis said. "That was close, but not close enough."

He handled them all, and more after that. He then scored or drove in all four of Detroit's runs for the game, including a go-ahead two-run single through a drawn-in infield in the fifth inning.

All in all, it was a pretty good start to a new role for Davis, who has had a season of them. He began the season as Detroit's regular left fielder with Andy Dirks out, then essentially became a fourth outfielder when J.D. Martinez's hitting tear forced him into the starting lineup. With Jackson gone, Davis is now part of the answer in center field along with Ezequiel Carrera.

If he performs, Davis could be the answer. With three left-handed starters pitching for the Rockies this weekend, he has plenty of opportunity to make an impression.

"I think he does see it, not as a challenge, but as taking a lot of pride in being a center fielder," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He's going to play a lot in center field."

The advantage Davis' speed gives him in center is obvious. For a spot that has some of the widest territory to cover in baseball thanks to the spacious dimensions of Comerica Park, Davis is the one of the few with enough speed to cover most of it. As long as he gets a good read, it'll be tough to get a hit over his head.

It's the read that will be key. As Detroit's two previous center fielders -- Austin Jackson and Curtis Granderson -- said at different times, it's not always easy to read the ball in Comerica Park.

"Certainly, his speed can make up for some misjudgments and some bad jumps occasionally," Ausmus said. "We'll see how it works."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.