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Move to bullpen catapulted Davis' career

MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

MESA, Ariz. -- When the Royals acquired Wade Davis in December 2012 along with James Shields, the intent was to have Davis join Kansas City's rotation in '13. It turns out, Wade was a better closer, which is good news for the Cubs.

Davis started for the Rays from 2009-11, then manager Joe Maddon moved him to the bullpen in '12. In '13 with the Royals, Davis went 6-10 with a 5.67 ERA in 24 starts, and after the switch, he gave up one run on three hits in seven relief outings to finish the season.

MESA, Ariz. -- When the Royals acquired Wade Davis in December 2012 along with James Shields, the intent was to have Davis join Kansas City's rotation in '13. It turns out, Wade was a better closer, which is good news for the Cubs.

Davis started for the Rays from 2009-11, then manager Joe Maddon moved him to the bullpen in '12. In '13 with the Royals, Davis went 6-10 with a 5.67 ERA in 24 starts, and after the switch, he gave up one run on three hits in seven relief outings to finish the season.

Kansas City was competing for the American League Wild Card that year, Yost said, and he felt that having the right-hander in the bullpen would give the Royals more options at the end of the season.

"The first time I brought him in a ballgame as a reliever, he was 96, 97 miles an hour," Yost said. "Wade was throwing 91, 92 miles an hour as a starter."

Yost knew he'd made the right move on Sept. 7, 2013, in Davis' second relief outing. The Royals and Tigers were tied at 1 heading into the top of the fifth. Detroit loaded the bases with one out, and Davis took over and struck out Torii Hunter, walked Miguel Cabrera on a full count, then got Prince Fielder to pop up to end the inning. The Royals scored one run in the bottom of the fifth and ended up with a 4-3 victory.

Cabrera, by the way, was batting .356 at the time.

"I walked him, which was a good thing, and I got the next two outs," Davis said.

Added Yost: "The rest of that year, every time I put him in a game, he was dominant. We went to Spring Training in '14 with the mindset that he was going to compete for a starter's job again. Luke Hochevar got hurt. I called Wade in and said, 'Look, that's a big bullet out of our gun with 'Hoch' going down needing Tommy John. We're going to start with you in the bullpen.'

"Wade looked at me and said, 'Skip, I don't care what I do. If it's starting rotation, if it's the bullpen, I just want to be the best at what I do.' From that point on, in my mind, if he wasn't the best, he was certainly one of the top three relievers in the game."

Video: Davis discusses experience, trade to Cubs

Maddon said he noticed an uptick in Davis' velocity when he moved him to the bullpen in 2012, and Yost saw the same thing a year later. According to Statcast™, Davis' pitch velocity on his four-seam fastball that season averaged 95 mph when he was strictly a reliever.

Here's the year-by-year breakdown:

2015 (reliever): 95.96 mph
2014 (reliever): 95.62 mph
2013 (starter/reliever): 92.20 mph
2012 (reliever): 93.71 mph
2011 (starter): 91.81 mph
2010 (starter): 92.53 mph
2009 (starter): 92.20 mph

When Davis switched to strictly a relief role for the last month of the 2013 season, his average velocity was 95.30 mph on his four-seam fastball.

"When you're starting, you don't do it every single time because you can't," said Davis, now in Cubs camp after being acquired in a trade for Jorge Soler. "It's not like I gained these velocity gains. It just became more consistent. I think I got better because I got bigger and stronger and started working harder."

What Yost liked the most about Davis was his fearlessness.

"There were times when you think there'd be no way that Wade would get out of a situation," Yost said. "There was no situation too big for him. He always found ways."

Game 6 of the 2015 AL Championship Series against the Blue Jays stands out. Kansas City held a three-run lead with Ryan Madson pitching. The Blue Jays had two on and one out in the eighth when Jose Bautista hit a two-run homer. Davis took over.

Video: ALCS Gm6: Davis induces groundout, Royals win pennant

"I knew it was going to rain," Yost said. "I did not want to bring Wade in that game. The next guy [Edwin Encarnacion] got on, and I had to bring Wade in. He got the next two outs, and then it rained for an hour.

"Having Wade as a closer get hot, and then sit for an hour -- when he went back out, the first two guys got on and it was first and third with nobody out, and then he struck out Dioner Navarro. It was second and third with the go-ahead run on second base, and Wade punched the next guy [Ben Revere] out and got a ground ball for us to win the American League Championship.

"Nothing fazed him. Not a one-hour rain delay, not first and third and nobody out to tie the ballgame, not second and third with one out to win the ballgame. It didn't affect him."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

Chicago Cubs, Wade Davis