SURPRISE, Ariz. — Looking back, Wade Davis got the biggest save of his career when the Kansas City Royals moved him from the rotation to the bullpen.
Mediocre as a starter, Davis has been downright dominant since becoming a reliever in September 2013.
In the last two years, combining regular season and postseason stats, he’s 20-3 with 20 saves and an 0.82 ERA, striking out well over a batter per inning.
"That was fortunate to have a couple of years that are successful," Davis said. "It’s definitely not going to help to think about it, so just prepare and get to work."
He did not allow a run in 10 2/3 innings in eight relief playoff appearances last year as the Royals won their first World Series since 1985.
"The numbers Wade’s done the past couple of years are phenomenal," Royals bullpen coach Doug Henry said. "It’s almost stupid."
In the clinching Game 6 of the AL Championship Series last October against Toronto, Jose Bautista homered off Ryan Madson in the eighth inning to tie it at 3. After Madson walked the next hitter, Davis was summoned to get the final two outs, striking out Troy Tulowitzki to end the inning, stranding a runner at second.
After a 40-minute rain delay, Davis was brought back for the ninth to protect a one-run lead. He immediately gave up a hit, a walk and three stolen bases, but got out of the jam by striking out Dioner Navarro and Ben Revere and retiring AL MVP Josh Donaldson on a grounder with runners on second and third base.
"When we get the ball to Wade, we feel like the game is over," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "In my mind, he’s the best reliever in baseball and I think there’s a lot of people’s minds he’s the best reliever in baseball right now. Every time you get that one-run lead, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you feel like that game is over."
Yost was equally confident during Davis’ escape in that game against the Blue Jays.
"I just feel even in that situation that Wade was going to get out of it because he doesn’t panic, he slows the game down and continues to execute quality pitches and with great stuff," Yost said. "That’s what makes him so good."
Davis, traded from Tampa Bay to the Royals in December 2012, was 31-32 overall with a 4.56 ERA in 88 starts. The Royals moved Davis in September 2013 to the bullpen — after averaging 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings as a starter, he’s up to 11.5 as a reliever.
Davis served primarily as closer Greg Holland’s setup man in 2014. When Holland needed Tommy John surgery last September, the Royals had Davis to fill that role.
With the Royals winning back-to-back AL championships, their offseasons have been abbreviated by a month.
"I think I felt a lot of pressure once the season was over to make sure I got back into shape because I had such a short period of time off," Davis said. "I started working pretty quick and more frequently because the last two months of the season there’s not a whole lot you can do with your body besides hold on and keep going.
"I really wanted to get back in a little bit better shape and get back to that mentality and not get too relaxed during the winter."
NOTES: RHP Kyle Zimmer, the Royals’ 2012 first-round pick, will start the exhibition opener Tuesday against the Texas Rangers. RHP Edinson Volquez will start Thursday against Texas, while RHP Yordano Ventura will start Friday against the Padres. RHP Ian Kennedy and LHP Danny Duffy are scheduled to pitch Saturday vs. the White Sox. … SS Alcides Escobar returned Saturday after missing four days to return to Venezuela after the death of an uncle.