For almost a decade, Wade Davis knew only one team in major league baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays.
So it was a little odd Sunday when the Lake Wales native was on the hill at Tropicana Field, wearing the uniform of the Kansas City Royals. Davis was part of a trade this past off-season with the Royals that also included Tampa Bay starter James Shields.
Davis insisted it mattered little that he was pitching against the organization where he spent his previous nine professional seasons. He attributed his rocky first inning to mechanical issues, not emotional ones.
“I was jumping a little bit in the first inning,” Davis said. “I was flying open early. I got into the stretch early, and I was fighting myself. I got back out (in the second inning) and was able to settle down a little bit.”
Whatever it was, he was a different pitcher after a 35-pitch first inning that saw him allow three hits and two walks, but just two runs.
“I knew once he got through the first he was going to settle in and be fine,” manager Ned Yost said. “I just had a good feeling that if he could get back in dugout, he would regroup and hold them right there.”
Davis, 4-5, retired 16 of the last 18 hitters he faced before handing a 4-2 lead to the bullpen to start the seventh inning. He has been pitching better in the last few weeks after settling back into a starter’s role. He worked out of the bullpen his final two years in Tampa in large part because the Rays had a surplus of starters.
Davis was the last of the three players acquired last December from the Rays to face his former team — and it didn’t begin well: a 35-pitch first inning after the Royals staked him to a 1-0 lead.
“I was up in the zone,” he said. “The result was the walks. A couple of hits came on balls I left up a little bit.”
Davis wasn’t the only one before Sunday’s game to predict a good outing for Davis.
“I expect his game to be elevated also,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I know he’s struggled a little bit, reading his lines and everything, but I do expect him to pitch well (today). These are all good players. We knew that when we sent them out of here, that they were all good and they were a big part of what we have done here in the past. I truthfully wish them well but not (against us). They’ve already beaten up on us pretty good.”
Davis, a Ray from the June 2004 draft until the December 2012 trade, said beforehand that the game will be “fun,” but he isn’t treating it as anything special, concerned that he could “end up being in a hot mess” by trying to do too much.
“I’ll approach it like I usually do, stay relaxed,” Davis said. “They’ve got a good offensive team, and I’ll just go after them. We’re winning games around here. That’s all I care about. I don’t care about past stuff.”
Davis did think he would have an edge. “It’s an advantage as far as not having to learn new hitters,” he said. “I’ve seen them in the past. I’ve seen them do good things. So you know your (possible) mistakes and your weaknesses” in matching up against them.
Davis, a Lake Wales native who was drafted right out of the Highlanders program in the third round, said he has enjoyed seeing friends and relatives (he had about 20 at the game) and being back at the Trop.
“There’s a lot of good memories, especially going around and seeing guys who work at the stadium that you were friends with and the staff that will talk to you and misses you,” Davis said. “It’s pretty comforting to know that you weren’t a negative type of guy around here. It was cool to see everybody and say hello.”