Davis' career changed by 2014 move to 'pen
New Rockies closer has 1.45 ERA over last four seasons in relief
DENVER -- The decision to turn Wade Davis -- the Rockies' new closer, thanks to a three-year, $52 million contract -- from a talented but inconsistent starting pitcher to a reliever in 2014 will go down as a stroke of genius.
But in Davis' mind, he was just following instructions.
"I didn't really get to make any of those choices, actually," Davis said. "It was, 'Hey, go do this, and you really don't have any choices.'"
Since the Royals made the switch permanent, with current Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster a part of that process, Davis has a 1.45 ERA, 79 saves and 313 strikeouts across 244 relief appearances. He pitched in the World Series for the Royals in 2014 and '15, the latter of which brought a championship, and turned in an All-Star season for the Cubs this past year (32 saves in 33 chances and a 2.30 ERA).
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Davis' future success may have been foreshadowed in 2012 with the Rays, his original team. He lost out to Jeff Niemann for a rotation spot but made 54 relief appearances and had a 2.43 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with 87 strikeouts and 29 walks over 70 1/3 innings. After Davis registered a 5.32 ERA in 2013 for Kansas City in 31 appearances, 24 of which were starts, the bullpen again emerged as an option.
Davis' reputation is as a cool-headed, confident guy whose aura radiates throughout a bullpen and a clubhouse. By taking to relief so well, the 32-year-old has earned a contract that carries the highest annual salary for a reliever in Major League history.
Davis didn't see the Royals' decision to move him into relief as a big deal. He carried the confidence that his fastball, cutter and curveball would eventually lead to success. Foster, at the time a special assistant to the general manager and pitching coordinator for the Royals, along with GM Dayton Moore and then-pitching coach Dave Eiland believed they were onto something.
"It's that pitch mix and demeanor," Foster said. "It's what makes a closer a closer. It's that sixth sense, that extra element. You can talk about stuff. You can talk about demeanor, but there's something within that human being that separates them from the fold.
"They swim upstream. Everybody else is downstream. They think differently. It's all about winning. It's not about how nasty their stuff is. It's just about the 'W' and getting those last three outs or four or five outs, whatever it takes."
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Turns out they were right.
"I don't know if it's that just personality-type thing," Davis said. "But once you get that belief that you can do that, you tend to do it more often than not."
For the second time in his career, Davis is replacing Greg Holland. In 2015, the right elbow injury Holland battled through during the regular season finally became bad enough that he needed surgery that October. Davis handled the closer's role through the Royals' World Series triumph and did it at an All-Star level for the Royals in 2016 and for the Cubs in '17.
Davis reunites with lefty Jake McGee, who re-signed with Colorado for three years and $27 million in December. Davis and McGee took their physicals together as teenage Rays Draft picks in 2004. Davis was taken in the third round and McGee in the fifth. They were teammates and roommates at two Class A stops and saved money with postgame meals at Waffle House. This winter, McGee told Davis about why he wanted to return to the Rockies.
"I relayed to him that [Rockies manager] Bud Black is very good at using the bullpen pitchers," McGee said. "He's not going to overuse you. Plus he's really good at communicating. I told him from a position-player standpoint to a pitcher standpoint, Bud is awesome at that. Bud reached out to him, too, talked to him about every aspect. And I know Wade wanted to go to a team where they have a winning culture and to play with a manager like that."
Davis was impressed with the Rockies' interest in him, as well as the bullpen group that surrounds him: McGee, former Indians right-hander Bryan Shaw and two holdovers from 2017 in righty Adam Ottavino and lefty Mike Dunn.
"It seems like it's a group that fits well," Davis said. "I don't think we'll have any problems taking care of business and helping our team win some ballgames."