6. Should Kyle Davies join the rotation?

BravesCenter's Bill Shanks continues his 35-part series on the top 35 questions facing the Braves this offseason. Is Kyle Davies ready for full-time duty?

This is going to be one of the easiest questions for me to answer, since I think there is no doubt that Kyle Davies should be in the Atlanta Braves' starting rotation in 2006.

Do you remember that Sunday afternoon game in Baltimore back during the 2004 season? The Braves had an awesome comeback that day, and many point to that as the day the Braves turned things around. Similarly, as you look back on the 2005 season, you could easily point to the May 21st game in Boston. It was a cold, late spring evening at Fenway Park, and the Braves, five days after losing John Thomson to a major finger injury, called upon a rookie to take the mound against the defending World Series champions.

All Mr. Kyle Davies did was go out and pitch five scoreless innings, striking out six Red Sox players. The win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Braves, and single-handedly got the team back on track for its fourteenth straight division title.

Davies would go on to make thirteen more starts for the Atlanta club. His overall statistics: 7-6, 4.93 ERA, 98 hits allowed in 88.2 innings pitched, 49 walks, and 62 strikeouts. His seven relief appearances ballooned the ERA a bit, as he allowed 12 runs in 12 relief innings.

The right-hander wasn't perfect. He struggled at times with his control, and his numbers after the All-Star break (6.14 ERA in 10 games, 3 starts) aren't going to knock your socks off. But there is little doubt that Davies proved he belonged in the big leagues.

Concerns over his rookie season seem to be nothing that won't be cured by more consistent pitching. Davies was in and out of the rotation in the second half of the season after John Thomson returned. For a kid that's been starting every fifth day for a couple of seasons in the minors, that can be a tough transition.

If given a spot in the rotation, Davies will know he's going to be out there every fifth day. He'll know his role and know what he'll have to do to become a dependable major league starter.

The stuff is there. Davies has a solid fastball that can reach 94 miles an hour. His changeup is excellent, and he throws a pretty good curveball. But that changeup is his out pitch, and it's going to get a lot of major league hitters out.

The Braves have some decisions to make to create room for Davies in the rotation full-time. John Smoltz and Tim Hudson will be the top two starters. John Thomson's option should be picked up, and unless he's traded he'll be back. Then they have to decide on Jorge Sosa. Do they keep him in the rotation or send him back to the bullpen? Then if you count Horacio Ramirez, you've got six starters, as long as Sosa is kept in the rotation.

Do not be surprised to hear Kyle Davies' name brought up in trade talks this winter. Any team doing business with the Braves this offseason will certainly ask for Davies. Wouldn't you if you were the GM of another team? Heck yeah. But the Braves resisted the A's demand for Davies last winter when the two teams were talking about Tim Hudson, so it doesn't seem like they'd give him up easily.

Whether it's sending Sosa back to the bullpen or by trading Thomson, the Braves must make room for Kyle Davies in the 2006 starting rotation. He's the future of this pitching staff. Remember, he just turned twenty-two years old, so he'll spend all but one month of next season at that age. Just imagine how good this kid might be in three years when he‘s twenty-five. There is no doubt that Davies showed enough last year to have most anyone convinced that he's ready to be a quality full-time major league starting pitcher.

Tomorrow we'll discuss what the Braves might do with two rookie pitchers that are knocking on the door of the big leagues, and two pitchers that Kyle Davies might have to battle in spring training for that rotation spot, Anthony Lerew and Chuck James.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. Bill can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com.

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