MESA, Ariz. -- One way for the Rockies to contend this year is to repeat their early-season success in close games, which means they'll need closer Wade Davis to be healthy and effective. The recent track record for both Davis and manager Bud Black, whose job entails maximizing his closer
MESA, Ariz. -- One way for the Rockies to contend this year is to repeat their early-season success in close games, which means they'll need closer Wade Davis to be healthy and effective. The recent track record for both Davis and manager Bud Black, whose job entails maximizing his closer but not overusing him, is solid.
Davis joined the Cubs in a December 2016 trade with the Royals. Although he had helped Kansas City to two straight World Series appearances, he also had two stints on the disabled list in 2016 due to right flexor tendon (forearm) injuries, and some were concerned those would lead to elbow problems. But Davis stayed healthy with the Cubs and converted all but one of his 33 save chances.
Meanwhile, in his first year as the Rockies' manager in 2017, Bud Black's closer was Greg Holland, who had missed the 2016 season following Tommy John surgery, and how he would respond to frequent use was unknown. Through July 5, the Rockies were 50-37 -- in part because Holland was 28-for-29 on save chances despite appearing on three straight days just once.
In helping recruit Davis, who signed for three years and $52 million, lefty Jake McGee -- a teammate of Davis with the Rays in both the Minors and Majors -- lauded the way Black communicates with the pitchers.
And for Davis, communication is rather simple.
"There really isn't a whole lot of communication on that. If you come in and say you can't pitch, that's the only time you ever need to communicate," Davis said. "It's always assumed that if you're good to go, you don't need to say anything. If you're not good to go, then that's when you come in and say, 'I need a day today.'"
Davis feels good, and his spring preparation has been smooth. He has worked back-to-back days on one occasion, and his manager will continue to monitor his usage closely.
"Last year with Greg, if you remember, we used him the first two days [at Milwaukee], and he was not going to pitch the third day of the season," Black said. "So you can probably expect similar plans."
When can a manager ride his closer a little harder?
"I don't know if there is a specific day, but your eyes tell you certain things about how they're throwing, and certain pitchers' conversations with us about how they're feeling, these are all daily discussions based on the physical [signs]," Black said.
Davis doesn't fear a heavy workload.
He worked 71 times in the regular season and 12 more games in the postseason in 2014 as Holland's setup man with the Royals. In the Royals' championship season in 2015, Davis took over for an injured Holland as the closer late in the season and ended up appearing in 69 regular-season and eight postseason games.
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The 2016 forearm issues were simply layovers from long seasons. And Davis, who pitched in 59 regular-season and five postseason games with the Cubs last year, believes rest and a proper offseason have brought him beyond that tough period.
"It's more just having an offseason to get stronger and let things heal," Davis said. "We threw in two straight World Series, so that's 162 games plus a little bit longer in a short time period.
"I've always been pretty strict. I don't take a day off the entire year on arm maintenance, even in the offseason. It's every other day, or 4-6 times a week."
Davis actually scored decently on the bounce-back scale. Just five pitchers in the Majors worked three straight days more than four times. Davis did it three times, and after his strikeouts per nine innings dropped from 10.4 in 2015 to 9.8 in his injury-affected 2016, he lifted it to 12.1 with the Cubs last season.
The monitoring and maintenance that makes an athlete a professional helps Davis understand when he can be pushed.
"That can change weekly," Davis said. "That depends on how you're responding. If you're throwing or really coming out of your mechanics, there are a lot of things that can change. Generally, if you're repeating your delivery, sleeping good and eating good things, things usually come together. And if you're having short outings in terms of pitches instead of those elongated, tough outings, that makes it much simpler."
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.