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MacArthur: Davis' speed a valuable asset

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Scott MacArthur
8/17/2013 11:56:01 PM
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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - Rajai Davis couldn't have drawn up his role in the Blue Jays' two-run third inning on Saturday any better.

Aboard on a lead off bunt single, pushed past the pitcher to the first base side. Follow it up with a stolen base and an advance to third on a ground ball before scoring on another ground out.

Davis' speed is the gift. It can't be taught. How he uses his speed to his advantage, particularly for stealing bases, is a product of years of work.

"I think it just comes from a lot of experience," said Davis. "I think I have 251 minor league stolen bases and (259) in the Bigs. That's a lot of experience right there. That alone, you've got an idea of what pitchers are going to do, what they want to do. They all seem to fall into the same rhythm or the same routine of things."

Davis' 36 stolen bases through Saturday tie him with Milwaukee's Jean Segura for third-most in the majors. A significant number under normal circumstances, the fact Davis has appeared in only 80 games, 54 as a starter, makes the total even more impressive.

"There are a number of people I can think of that have speed," said Davis. "Not all of them steal bases though. It's something you have to develop and it's something you have to work on constantly. It's just like hitting, you've got to constantly get better and learn the pitchers and learn what they want to do and while you're doing it you've got to still remain calm, cool and collected."

The process of becoming a base stealer, not just a fast runner, began immediately after Davis was drafted in 2001 by the Pirates.

He sidled up to minor league instructors like Gary Redus, who stole 322 bases in a career that spanned 13 seasons, and Tony Beasley, who swiped 138 bags playing almost a decade in the minors.

After moving on to San Francisco and then Oakland, Davis picked the brain of Rickey Henderson whenever he was around the Athletics' facilities. Here, now, with the Blue Jays, Davis spent time this spring studying video and talking with roving base running instructor Tim Raines.

Henderson and Raines are two of the all-time greats.

"If you look at video, what are you looking for? That's the key," said Davis. "Now you talk with them, they'll tell you what to look for. They've got some things that you can look for. But video, to me, is useless unless you know what you're doing, unless you know what you're looking for. Talking with them is gaining knowledge."

He thrives on the cat-and-mouse game with the pitcher. Davis gets to first; he knows the pitcher is distracted by his presence. He's used to diving back to the bag, the subject of regular pick-off attempts. Some mean business, others attempt to get Davis to shorten his lead.

If Davis takes off, the pitcher wants his catcher to have a chance.

Davis says Tigers' right-hander Max Scherzer has one of the best pick-off moves in the game. He was impressed by Travis Blackley, a young left-hander in the Astros organization who came to Toronto with Houston for a series last month.

Sometimes, he sees something he hasn't before.

"This year, I've seen David Price break out the step off move for the first time in my career," said Davis. "I've never seen him do that. Maybe he was trying to get better, trying to slow down the running game. It's always changing and you've got to adjust, got to think on the fly. It helps when you've got the experience dealing with a lot of times on base and stealing bases."

Davis will be eligible for free agency for the first time this offseason. His future in Toronto is put into doubt by the business of the game. The Blue Jays have more than $100-million worth of guaranteed contracts for 2014 and arbitration eligibility for the likes of Colby Rasmus and J.P. Arencibia to deal with.

Whether he fits into the budget, both term and money, is a matter for both sides to hammer out.

Regardless, he'll be in demand. Speed is always in demand.

"I think the best thing for me is just to focus on what I need to do daily because what's going to happen in the future is just going to happen based on what I do daily," said Davis. "If I can continue to focus on doing my part, contributing, just staying focused on getting on base, stealing bases, doing what I do, I think that my future will take care of itself."

REYES DOWN FOR WEEKEND

Shortstop Jose Reyes has been playing with a sore right knee for about two weeks. The pain intensified toward the end of the Boston series and has reached the point where rest is needed.

"I think I've put a lot of pressure on the good leg because I don't want to put pressure on my ankle," said Reyes. "I think that caused a little problem there."

Reyes missed 66 games with a sprained left ankle earlier this season. Until Saturday, he had started each of the 45 games since his return and had been removed from only three games, all blowout losses.

He says he showed up to Tropicana Field intending to play but took the advice of trainer George Poulis and manager John Gibbons to take rest.

Would he be available to pinch hit in a pinch?

"If they need me I'll be ready in the dugout," said Reyes.

The plan is to have Reyes return on Tuesday in New York.

The Blue Jays have an off day on Monday.

JOHNSON STAYING BACK

Josh Johnson, on the disabled list with a strained right forearm, will split from the club when it heads to New York on Sunday evening.

He'll continue to rest and rehab under the watch of team doctors in Dunedin.

LIND UP A NOTCH

Adam Lind's two round trippers on Saturday moved him into sole possession of eighth on the Blue Jays' all-time home run list.

His 136 home runs with Toronto is one more than Ernie Whitt's total.

WHITE BOARD MESSAGE

With a win on Sunday, the Blue Jays will take a series in Tampa Bay for the first time in six years.

It's significant. Remember, because the Rays are a division rival, Toronto visits Tropicana Field three times a year for a total of nine or 10 games.

Coaches and players recognize the importance. Someone, an unidentified Blue Jay, even took to the white board to jot down a message after Saturday's victory.

"THIS TEAM HAS NOT WON A SERIES HERE SINCE 2007. LET'S CHANGE THAT TOMORROW."

Rajai Davis (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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