Pittsburgh Pirates

Davis has everything Rays need, but not right now

JUPITER

His story is an old one, told every March in almost every spring training camp across the major leagues. He is young and he is talented. He has a big arm and big dreams.

He is the future, and that future creeps closer as he strikes out Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano in his first outing and gets Albert Pujols to ground out twice in two at-bats during his second outing.

In this Tampa Bay Rays camp his name is Wade Davis. He is 6-foot-5, 220 pounds. He is 23 years old.

Davis is not the phenom. That would be David Price, the big lefty who was one of the Rays’ heroes last October.

Davis is the top prospect with the impressive minor league resume who is getting his first real look in the big league camp.

And people are looking.

“He’s wanting to make the point that, ‘I’m here,’ and the way he’s doing it is interesting, because he has what you’re looking for,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said Monday after Davis threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings in the Rays’ 8-5 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Davis works fast, and he throws strikes. He can pound the strike zone down with his fastball and throw his curve ball for strikes. And while it is early in the exhibition season, early enough so that the pitchers are still ahead of the hitters, as they like to say, Davis has faced some pretty impressive hitters and retired almost all of them.

Davis has allowed only one hit in 5 2/3 innings against the best the New York Yankees and Cardinals have to offer. He hasn’t walked a batter, and he’s struck out four.

“It’s nice to get some time against these good hitters and match yourself up with some of the best hitters in baseball,” Davis said. “It’s been good for me.”

He does not lack for confidence this Davis, but he is not cocky. He is moving through the Rays’ minor league system at a reasonable rate, finding success at each level.

Davis began last season at Double-A Montgomery and stepped out of character when he didn’t always throw his best pitch. He quickly corrected the problem and found himself at Triple-A Durham. Combined, he won a career-high 13 games in 2008 and moved a step closer to the big leagues.

In past spring, Davis would be the hit of the Rays’ camp. He would push for a spot in the rotation, and in some of those years he would earn a spot on the Opening Day roster. He would run the risk of not realizing his potential because he was rushed through the minors.

How many times have we seen that? Thankfully, those days are gone.

The Rays have a number of good, young pitchers in camp this spring, and some of them won’t make the team.

That says as much about the development of the organization as the Rays’ run to the World Series last October.

Davis has no shot at being in Boston on Opening Day. If Price isn’t going to get the fifth spot in the rotation — he appears headed to Durham in April — than Davis surely won’t, either.

“We want a little more mileage on him,” Maddon said.

Still, Davis is a joy to watch this spring. He is young and filled with promise, and everything he’s done through two starts says he will realize that promise.

“It’s wonderful to see,” Maddon said.

The extra week of games and the Rays’ decision to hold the major league starters out of games until Saturday has created opportunities for the younger pitchers in camp. Davis is making the most of his chances.

“I’m trying to show them I’m here to pitch in the big leagues,” Davis said. “Hopefully that happens.”

Oh, it will, and don’t be surprised if it’s some time this summer.

“He’s doing everything right,” Maddon said. “He’s making a wonderful impression. We have a lot of belief in this guy. We believe he is going to be a big part of the future.”

It is a story as old as spring training. Come out early and watch the future pitch a few innings.

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