Back with Royals, Davis feels 'at home'

February 20th, 2021

When stepped into the Royals clubhouse at their Spring Training complex this week, put on a Royals uniform for the first time since 2016 and looked around the room -- even with all the new faces on the roster -- there was a familiarity about it.

He felt like he was home.

“I wanted to be here,” Davis said Friday, speaking with reporters alongside teammate Greg Holland. “I talked to Greg about it a long time ago -- this is definitely the place I wanted to be. Meeting some new guys around here, seems like a really good group of people, which you fully expect with [general manager] Dayton [Moore] and the way he runs things. It’s good to see some of the trainers and coaches that I’ve known in the past. And it definitely feels like I’m at home.”

The Royals are hoping for similar results with Davis this year that they saw last year with Holland and Trevor Rosenthal. One of the most dominant relievers in the franchise’s recent history, Davis was a vital part of the Kansas City bullpen during its World Series runs in 2014 and '15.

Davis delivered the final out of the Royals’ first World Series title in three decades in 2015. That reputation has followed him into Spring Training this year as a non-roster invitee after signing a Minor League contract with the club this offseason.

“He’s legendary,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “When you close out big games, you become part of the history of an organization, that kind of speaks for itself.”

An All-Star in 2015 and ’16, Davis posted a 2.94 ERA and 47 saves in four seasons with the Royals. He had a 0.94 ERA as part of a vaunted ‘pen in '15 and posted a 0.36 ERA (one earned run in 25 innings) during the '14 and '15 postseasons with Kansas City, along with three victories and four saves.

Davis, 35, was traded to the Cubs for designated hitter Jorge Soler before the 2017 season and then signed a three-year contract with the Rockies prior to 2018. He led the National League in saves (43) in 2018, but his performance has dropped off in the past two years.

He compiled an 8.65 ERA in 50 games (42 2/3 innings) in ’19 and allowed 10 runs in five appearances (4 1/3 innings) in ’20 as he battled a right shoulder strain and decreased velocity before being released in September.

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Like Holland a year before, Davis and the Royals are hoping that a fresh start in a familiar place will help turn things around. After six seasons with the Royals and part of that vaunted bullpen in 2014-15, Holland performed well in Colorado in ‘17 -- leading the NL with 41 saves -- before struggling with injury and inconsistency, as well as decreased velocity.

Holland signed a Minor League contract with the Royals in 2020 and helped anchor a young bullpen, pitching in multiple roles while posting a 1.91 ERA, six saves and a 0.95 WHIP.

“For me personally, I don’t know if I’ve been fortunate enough to have like five or six fresh starts, but I know it can help out quite a bit,” Holland said. “The name of the game is throw the ball where you want to, and if you’re healthy, you can do that.”

Holland is back with the Royals in 2021 -- and now has his friend and teammate back in Davis.

“We were part of something special,” Holland said. “It means a lot to me. I’m glad that Wade’s back. I fully expect us to just go get outs as a bullpen collectively, and I think Wade’s going to be a huge part of that. I’m just excited for it.”

Davis has thrown one official bullpen session since pitchers and catchers reported and said Friday that he’s fully healthy. His pitches and his body have felt good. Matheny watched the session Wednesday and walked away impressed after standing behind Davis and calling his location “impeccable.”

As Opening Day gets closer, Davis’ performance will ultimately decide how he fits on the Royals’ roster. But his experience and presence aren’t things Matheny takes for granted, especially when seeing the example Davis sets for the younger pitchers.

“We’re going to know when guys go out and start competing,” Matheny said. "It’s always that test, especially when you got guys that are working on their mechanics, and it all feels good, sounds good, looks good, but bottom line is how does the opposition, how’s the competition respond to it?

“Let’s just see what we see and then take in all the information that we’ve heard about how this guy has operated in the past and then hopefully the group of us get to collectively come together and make great decisions about people.”

Davis and Matheny spoke this winter about Matheny not having any set roles with his relievers, instead focusing on the matchup and the scenario each game presents. The manager employed that philosophy last year with a bullpen that ended up as the strength of the club.

If Davis fits into that ‘pen this year, he said he’s ready for whatever Matheny will ask of him.

“I’ve obviously got a lot to prove here and to try to get an opportunity here,” Davis said. “It just does really feel like home, but just with a fresh face. It seems like a pretty cool atmosphere. ... Whatever works and organically happens, if I get the opportunity to be on this team, I’m game for whatever it is.