He might not know exactly why, but Royals’ Davis is dominating in relief
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Same approach, different results. Very different results.
Royals right-hander Wade Davis swears he’s not pitching much differently as a reliever than he was a starter. Nor does he get more "amped up" coming out of the bullpen than he did when he was a starter.
"If anything," Davis says, "I was more amped up as a starter. Seriously."
As a career starter, Davis has a 4.57 ERA and a 1.453 WHIP. As a reliever, he has a 2.17 ERA and a 1.033 WHIP.
As a starter, he strikes out 6.3 hitters per nine innings. As a reliever, he is striking out 11.7 hitters per nine.
And this season, Davis has been nothing short of phenomenal. In his last 15 innings of work, he has fanned 32 hitters. That is not a typo — 32 strikeouts.
In that span, he also has given up just six hits and one run.
He has been completely dominant.
"Just a small sample size," Davis says, shrugging his shoulders.
Part of Davis’ modesty stems from the fact that in his heart, he still views himself as a starter. His mindset all offseason was to go to spring training and win a job in the rotation.
"When I got to spring training this year, I felt great," he says. "I was really ready, physically and mentally. I was pumped. But then things happened."
What happened is that the Royals’ main bridge to closer Greg Holland at the end of last season, Luke Hochevar, was diagnosed with a torn UCL in his elbow that required Tommy John surgery.
Within 48 hours, Davis was told his dreams of starting again would be put on hold. He would be the new bridge to Holland.
"But I have no problem with the way it’s worked out," he says. "It’s fun to come in and contribute."
While Davis still clings to memories of being a starter, at least slightly, the Royals likely feel a bit differently. They see a pitcher who has made the back end of their bullpen among the best in the game.
"You can’t argue with the results," pitching coach Dave Eiland says. "Especially for this team, this is working."
When told that Davis doesn’t perceive himself as getting any more fired up in his bullpen role, Eiland simply smiles.
"Well, he would know more about that than anyone," Eiland says. "But … well, let me put it this way: He is way more on the attack when he’s coming out of the pen.
"As a starter, sometimes he picks on the edges a little too much. Now, he attacks the strike zone and doesn’t try to manipulate his pitches so much."
Davis does concede that much — that his mindset is a bit more aggressive as a reliever.
"You know, for me, it’s all about getting ahead of guys," Davis says. "When you’re coming out of the pen, your thought process isn’t about who you face over the course of the game, as you would as a starter. My thought process is, no matter what, get that first guy out. If you get the first guy out, it sets everything up the rest of the inning.
"The percentages are pretty good for you when you get the first guy out. That’s what I preach to myself."
And it is the manner in which Davis is striking out hitters that is wowing everyone. At times, he has overmatched hitters with a fastball that recently touched 98 mph on the radar gun.
"As a starter, I’ve always been one of the best at getting ahead of guys 1-2 or 0-2," he says. "But putting them away … I don’t know, I think sometimes I got too overconfident and I would throw that 1-2 pitch or 0-2 pitch right in the zone and I’d get a lot of weak scratch hits (off me). Or I would try to get them to chase and chase, and then it’s 3-2 and your pitch count goes up."
So how is he getting that third strike by hitters now?
"Right now, I’m just executing my pitches instead of just missing off the corner or missing too much in the zone," he says. "That’s all I really want to say about (my approach).
"But having the fastball a little higher (in velocity) is always a good thing. But the main thing is to locate it, whether you try to elevate it or lower it, move it around. If you can do all that, then you throw something off-speed, you got a great chance of getting (strikeouts)."
Davis’ success out of the bullpen has been so stunning that there has been talk again of someday making him a closer.
Davis, though, avoids the question like a hitter trying to lay off a two-strike changeup in the dirt.
"You know how it is," he says. "You see me. All I think about is each day and whether or not I’ll pitch that day.
"I don’t know (about being a closer). Even if I did know I probably wouldn’t tell you yes or no. I’m 100 percent thinking of my present job.
"I think the fact I don’t think about all the other scenarios is why I am having success. In the past, I used to think about all kinds of crap, especially when I was younger. I used to listen to what fans say or writers say. I just don’t think that’s productive anymore."
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.