SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Last year, it was being better in the first inning. This year, Zach Davies' aim is to be better in the first month.
The Brewers' right-hander is putting a metaphorical spin on an adjustment he made on the way to leading the Brewers in innings, starts and victories in spite of an 8.24 ERA in the first four of those 33 starts. On Saturday, in his second appearance and first start of Spring Training, Davies logged two innings against the Rockies with the regular season already in the back of his mind.
"I'm trying to get a lot more offspeed into the game and focus on it in bullpens," Davies said, "because last year it came on slow. I had to rely a lot on my sinker, and as a guy who doesn't throw 95-96 [mph], it's hard to just rely on that one pitch."
That showed up in the numbers last year. According to Statcast™, Davies threw 38 percent changeups, curveballs and cutters while struggling through his first four starts, and about 45 percent of those pitches were called balls. The rest of the way, he upped his offspeed percentage to 42 percent while missing the strike zone with those pitches just 33.5 percent of the time.
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Better results followed. Davies was 16-7 with a 3.41 ERA in his final 29 starts, including a particularly sharp stretch of 15 starts and 98 innings from late June through the middle of September in which he had a 2.30 ERA and held opponents to a .608 OPS.
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"That's something I saw at the end of last year -- both years, really," said Davies, acquired in a July 2015 trade with the Orioles and a mainstay of Milwaukee's rotation since that September. "Take out the first month, have a better month to start the year, it could be a lot better at the end of the year.
"I'm not upset about the way I finished  because I felt like I got stronger and stronger as the year went on, but it's just something to think about. If you have it there from the get-go, it's that much more exciting."
Davies got the start in Saturday's Spring Training game against the Rockies, which the Brewers won 6-5. In two innings, he allowed one run on two hits -- including a home run -- while striking out two batters.
Thames connects, Woodruff knocked around
Scratched from the starting lineup of a game against the D-backs on Thursday at Salt River Fields because of a stiff back, first baseman Eric Thames returned to the venue Saturday in the Brewers' 6-5 win over the Rockies and went 2-for-3 with a home run in the second inning and a double in the sixth.
It was tougher going for starting rotation hopeful Brandon Woodruff, who surrendered three runs in the bottom of the sixth, including a pair of solo homers to Rockies No. 2 prospect Ryan McMahon and Rule 5 Draft pick Anthony Bemboom. McMahon's game-tying homer had an exit velocity of 114.0 mph per Statcast™, harder than any home run the Rockies hit last year.
"I liked Brandon today. I know the results weren't good," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "He threw a curveball for the first homer, which is a pitch we're playing with in Spring Training. I thought his slider was a good pitch today, and that's a focus pitch. Velocity was very good today. I know the results weren't good, but I liked it."
The Brewers won the game with a three-run eighth, fueled mostly by Minor Leagues including outfielder Tyrone Taylor, who started things with a solo home run. He was not scheduled to come over from Minor League camp on Saturday, but earned playing time when he hit a home run in the Brewers' "B" game against the Angels a day earlier.
"It was my best strategic move of the spring so far," Counsell quipped. "You homer, you get to come back the next day. I think that's a pretty fair way to go."
Still just messing with us?
When Ryan Braun said at Brewers On Deck in January that he was open to playing some second base this spring in addition to learning first base, Counsell told reporters, "I think he's messing with you." Just in case that had changed, Counsell was asked about the possibility again on Saturday, a day after Braun, who continues to float the possibility when he talks to reporters, swapped spots with Jonathan Villar and warmed up from the second baseman's spot between innings of the Brewers' game against the Mariners.
It's still not happening, according to Counsell.
"You're free to keep believing it if you want," Counsell said.
Corey Knebel and Josh Hader, arguably the Brewers' best two relievers, are scheduled for their second Cactus League appearances when the Brewers host the Indians at Maryvale Baseball Park on Sunday at 2:05 p.m. CT. Jhoulys Chacin starts for Milwaukee opposite Cleveland ace Corey Kluber on the Brewers Radio Network and MLB.com's Gameday Audio.