Davis Locked In

TAMPA, FL - It's no secret that right-hander Rookie Davis had a disappointing season a year ago in low-A Charleston, especially with the way he had transformed his body the previous offseason. While he did struggle and mightily so at times, it was rather surprising given his pretty special stuff. By season's end he quickly surmised it wasn't anything physical giving him fits, it was all mental.

[Photo by Mark LoMoglio

After a difficult season in Charleston where he finished with an ERA barely under five, Rookie Davis went into the offseason with a goal in mind: get control of his emotions and not let them dictate how he performs.

“I really focused on the mental aspect, I had an up-and-down year, it’s no secret,” Davis admitted. “Just learning how to take responsibility and maturing a little bit [it what I'm doing].”

He looked at tape -- for an hour a day over the offseason -- of his starts, both good and bad and tried to take something away from it and learn how to sequence pitching a bit better than he had in the past.

Davis knows he is an emotional pitcher and he did something this offseason that may prove to help propel him going forward: he went to a sports psychologist.

“She was really able to help me out with having a short-term memory and try to stay even keel as much as I can,” Davis said. “It’s [my emotions] something I wanted to get under control this year and I feel really good about it.”

He slimmed down heading into the 2014 season and his goal for the 2015 season was not about keeping his weight under control but his body fat percentage. His coaches didn’t want him above 15 percent and he sat at about 13 percent by season's end. This season he weighs 245 pounds with nine percent body fat. He added muscle to his already imposing frame.

He has noticed a very big uptick in the velocity on his fastball too. His fastball had ranged from 92-95 mph a year ago. Friday night he sat between 94 and 95. Davis said in spring he would touch 96-97 on the fastball.

“I pitch better at 92-95. I’m able to locate fastballs down in the zone,” Davis said. “If I get a guy 0-2, I know 96, 97 maybe 98 is in my back pocket.”

Locating his fastball was a priority in spring. To help with that, Davis eliminated the cutter from his repertoire, which Davis says was a huge pitch for him last year but also took away from fastball command down in the zone. Davis spoke with Gil Patterson, one of the pitching coordinators, who suggested replacing the cutter with a better curveball. Davis hopes to reincorporate the cutter when he gets to Trenton.

“He looked great in spring," pitching coach Tommy Phelps said. "He commanded his fastball well. It’s one of the keys for him. "We quickened up his curveball, tightened it, taking a bit of the hump out of it. It’s later bite and it’s good for him.”

Davis put the advice of the sports psychologist to the test early on Friday night versus the Lakeland Flying Tigers. Three of the first four batters reached base. The leadoff hitter hit a triple on a changeup that was up in the zone and then scored on an RBI right after. Davis admits he went away from the game plan of fastball command, in and out, and down in the zone.

“If that would’ve happened to me last year, my thought would’ve been ‘here we go again,’” Davis admits. “I stuck with the same approach as if no one was on. I didn’t want to have a huge first inning where the guys are down two, three, four runs.”

He retired the last two batter of the inning after giving up the one run. When he came into the dugout, Phelps and his teammates who played with him in Charleston who knew how much of an emotional pitcher he was came over to help calm him down.

“I said yeah, let me settle in. I’ll be fine,” Davis said.

Davis proceeded to throw five perfect innings, getting 17 straight outs, after the rough first inning. He says that is the most batters in a row he has retired since high school.

His final stat line was: six innings pitched, three hits, five strikeouts and the lone run in the first. He struck out the side looking in the fourth inning. He says he didn’t know he had retired every batter after the first inning until he came into the dugout and spoke with catcher Radley Haddad.

“I said ‘Radley, they’re not running. Are they getting big leads?’ and he said, ‘you haven’t allowed a baserunner since the first,’” Davis said.

Manager Dave Bialas was impressed by how aggressive Davis was and how he was able to throw strikes with all of his pitches.

“If he keeps throwing like he did [Friday night] he won’t here [in high-A] very long. He’s a big league pitcher,” Bialas concluded.


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