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Davis, Holland form dynamic duo at back end of 'pen

Kansas City's setup man, closer have been dominant in securing victories

KANSAS CITY -- Here's Greg Holland on Wade Davis: "The way he's pitched, it's been unbelievable, to say the least." Here's Davis on Holland: "He's been second to none -- definitely the nastiest I've seen."

It's a mutual admiration society for Davis, Kansas City's eighth-inning setup man, and Holland, its closer.

For a single admiration society, we go to Ned Yost, Royals manager: "They're dynamic. It's a nice 1-2 punch to have in the eighth and ninth inning."

And for a refrain from a starter who benefits, listen to James Shields: "They've shown us and proven to the league that they're here for a reason and doing their job. It's really awesome to see."

Davis and Holland are the Royals' iron wall at the finish and, lately, they've been virtually impenetrable.

A classic example came in Kansas City's 4-1 win over Cleveland on Wednesday. Davis came in for the eighth, the Indians loaded the bases and yet he managed to escape unscathed. Holland arrived and reeled through a perfect ninth.

Look at some of what they've accomplished:

Davis has a streak of 19 shutout innings in his last 16 appearances. He has 30 strikeouts in that span, or 14.2 per nine innings. Opponents have hit .111 in that period.

In addition, Davis is just one of two pitchers in the Majors (minimum seven appearances) that have yet to allow an extra-base hit this season: He's gone 26 games and 29 1/3 innings; Oakland's Fernando Abad has gone 31 games and 25 2/3 innings.

Davis has a 1.23 ERA and a 5-1 record.

"Fastballs, cutters, good curveballs. Plus good location. His cutter's been a really good pitch for him. It's hard and sharp," Yost said.

Holland has an American League-leading 19 saves in 20 opportunities. He has a 1.40 ERA -- it was an even lower 1.21 last year.

He's also working on a scoreless streak, 13 2/3 innings over 14 outings. That's been going since May 6 and he has 21 strikeouts and has held batters to a .152 average in that span.

For the season, he has 39 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings, averaging 13.67 per nine innings.

"If I can give him the ball and we can win games," Davis said, "that's all that matters."

Davis got to the setup job via starting at both Tampa Bay and Kansas City.

In 2012, his last season with the Rays, he made 54 relief outings after 29 starts in each of the previous two years.

"He was the setup guy," said Shields, also a Rays teammate. "He had to work his way in; he didn't start the season as the setup man, but by the second month he was right there, setting up our closer. So he's been there before, he's experienced at it and his stuff is just electric when he's out of the bullpen, as he's proven this year."

Davis went back to starting for the Royals in 2013, but was moved to the bullpen last September. Yost remembers that he wanted to use Davis in two-inning appearances, but he preferred to go just one inning in his old setup mode.

"He said, 'Let me get my arm back to coming with all fury for just three outs, let me get back to that,'" Yost recalled.

Davis had so much fury that he had an ERA of 0.90, held the opposition to a .094 average and had two wins in seven appearances.

In the end, Yost decided to use Davis in relief again this year and he's become an ever-reliable setup man for an ever-reliable closer.

Holland graduated from setup to closer in mid-2012 when the Royals dealt Joakim Soria's successor, Jonathan Broxton, to Cincinnati. He's learned to think like a closer.

"The biggest difference, if you're up by two runs or three runs and you give up a leadoff single or a leadoff double, is it's selfish for me to try to strand that guy. I need to get three outs before they tie the game," Holland said. "That's happened a few times. We're up by three, I give up a leadoff single and basically give him second, a two-out single scores him and we win by two."

So his personal ERA suffers, but the Royals are winners.

That he's leading the AL in saves is important for only one reason.

"It just means we're winning a lot of games and I'm getting a lot of chances," Holland said. "It's fun to be out there with the lead in the ninth inning, but you don't really worry about numbers and stuff. The only number that really matters is wins, so if I'm getting saves, we're winning games."

Shields sees Davis and Holland as vital for a Royals team that finally seems on the move.

"Their job is to hold the lead and that's what their mentality is as bullpen guys. You have to have that," Shields said. "If you want to be selfish and not give up runs for yourself, it's not going to work out that way. They're very good teammates and I'm glad they're at the back end."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for
Read More: Kansas City Royals, Greg Holland, Wade Davis