There wasn’t all that much for the Nationals to feel good about when they packed up and left Turner Field on Sunday, but the major league debut of right-handed reliever Erik Davis was certainly one of them.
Davis, a 26-year-old called up on Saturday with the Nationals in need of an arm and Bryce Harper needing the disabled list, pitched to five batters and got five outs.
“You wait your whole life for an opportunity like that, it would be wrong to be nervous, I think,” Davis said. “That was something I’ve been waiting for for 26 years, and I’d never forgive myself if I was going in there not giving it everything I had. And that’s kinda how I pitch every time, just go after guys.”
Davis is an interesting addition to the Nationals’ bullpen. In the absence of Ryan Mattheus, out with a broken hand, Davis could slide into Mattheus’ role. He talked a bit on Saturday about how he uses his changeup as a weapon, particularly against left-handed batters.
But on Sunday, what was most impressive was his calm in a difficult situation. Davis was summoned with runners on second and third to clean up a mess that Zach Duke had made. He got a ground ball to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman from his first batter, Evan Gattis, which Zimmerman threw home to prevent a run from scoring. Then he got a ground out from Brian McCann to first to end the inning.
“Infield playing in, you either want a strikeout or a groundout,” Davis said. “Down in the bullpen, Jimmy Lett was telling us just keep the ball away from Gattis, he doesn’t like the breaking ball. So I just went right after him like that and Zim made a great play diving to his right and then I was able to get out of it after that.
“And then next inning, since we were down three I knew it was important tp put up a zero. I just went after guys again.”
Davis’ parents flew in from San Francisco on Saturday and they were obviously excited in the stands to see their son make his debut. His girlfriend came in, too, Davis said. He had about 40 messages waiting for him when the Nationals game ended.
“It was great,” Davis said. “It would’ve been nice if we had won, but it was nice getting out there for the first time. After I came back in they congratulated me and told me they were going with (left-hander Fernando Abad). I could’ve gone another one if they needed me to, but that’s why he gets paid the big bucks to make those decisions.”
– On the other end of the spectrum was Duke’s day. Duke was called on with runners on first and second in the fifth. He got ahead of McCann 1-2, but the Braves’ catcher then battled him for five more pitches before he reached out and smacked a run-scoring single to left field.
That, Duke could reconcile. It was what came next that bothered the Nationals’ left-hander.
“McCann one-handed a ball into left field,” Duke said. “It was a good pitch. Not much you can do about that. After that, got out of rhythm, walking guys, that’s not what I do.”
After the game, Duke spent some time in manager Davey Johnson’s office talking about what he can do to right himself. A starter for the majority of his career, Duke’s transition to relief has been inconsistent, both in results and how he’s been used.
Duke made a spot start on May 20. He next pitched eight days later. He threw eight pitches, and another five days went by before Duke was summoned on Sunday. So he talked with Johnson about what he can do to avoid any kind of rust build up between starts.
“I’m still trying to figure out the routine and the work that I need to do in-between,” Duke said. “I had a conversation with Davey about getting on the mound more and throwing bullpens more often. That’s something I feel like I need.
“My whole career I’ve taken the ball as long as you can every fifth day, throw a bullpen in between. Now it’s been — five days ago I threw eight pitches. I wasn’t on the mound in-between, and I got on the mound today and I don’t have the same feel. Have to do something to figure out how to keep the consistent feel.”
As for the fact that left-handers are hitting .448 off Duke this season, he made no excuses and he wasn’t surprised.
“No,” he said. “Leave a lot of balls over the middle. That’s the thing. Not locating sliders to them, so, it makes sense.”
– Left-handed reliever J.C. Romero has opted out of his minor league deal with the Nationals, a source confirmed. Romero, 36, signed a minor league deal with the Nationals at the end of spring training and had allowed four earned runs in 12 2/3 innings at Triple-A Syracuse. He struck out 16 and walked four but hadn’t pitched since May 8, landing on the disabled list with tendonitis in his throwing shoulder.
Foxsports.com, who was the first to report Romero opting out, said the lefty is close to signing with the Cleveland Indians.