Davis Mixing It Up

Davis makes his first start for Charleston on Wed.

STATEN ISLAND, NY - After overcoming a debilitating illness that cut short his 2012 debut season with the Yankees' Gulf Coast club along with much of the subsequent offseason, right-handed pitcher Rookie Davis has returned to the mound in good health and is turning heads this summer.

"I feel 100 percent now and ready to go," he said. "My arm feels the best that it has since spring training -- there are no issues there."

Drafted out of high school by the Yankees in the 14th round of the 2011 Player Draft, the Sneads Ferry, North Carolina native pitched well in Florida last year, going 2-1 with a 2.65 ERA and 17 strikeouts through as many innings, but an unconfirmed respiratory disorder caused the 20-year-old to lose 30 pounds in a short period.

"We didn't [get a diagnosis]," he said. "[My trainers and I] believe it was a respiratory infection and then a viral infection on top of that. We went to the doctor and got treatment and I sat out for a couple months."

When cleared to return to physical activity, the 6-foot-5-inch Davis worked to put the weight back on. Though mentally and physically wrenching, his rehabilitation placed his now 235-pound body in a position to restore a normal routine.

"It was tough," he said. "You want to be out there with your teammates every five days, [but] I was pleased with how we handled it.

"When I got the okay to start lifting and conditioning, I went at it pretty hard preparing and I wanted to be in the best mental and physical shape I could be in, so that definitely helped growing up a little bit through that and preparing me for this year."

Davis knew that he would start more games this season despite making only one start in 2012, but he worried that the illness would have a lingering effect on his stamina.

"The thing I was worried about [during Spring Training] was whether or not I was going to be able to go four, five, six innings," he said. "But I went out in Spring Training and threw the ball and I've been lucky enough to play behind a good defense here, so sometimes it just works out like that."

He need not be so modest. In eleven starts this season with the Baby Bombers, Davis went 2-4 with a 2.36 ERA with 39 strikeouts through 42 innings. Davis' comeback and success at a higher level following an offseason that left much in doubt has been nothing short of remarkable.

With a four pitch arsenal that includes a two-seam and four-seam fastball, a changeup and a curveball, Davis is primarily working on his command and keeping his pitches down in the strike zone.

"I lost all that weight last year and came back and my fastball velocity wasn't there," he said. "My secondary stuff was okay. Through that I realized that I can't throw [pitches] by [hitters]; I have to locate down, and I think that helped me with the location of my fastball.

"The velocity is there again, and through being sick and having to work down [in the zone] and in hitting my spots, that helped me out.

"[My] four-seam fastball is anywhere from 94-95 [mph] on a good day. I throw a two-seam which is a sinker, and it's around the same, 90-93. A changeup, which is a work in progress, [around] 83-85, and then a curveball, which has come a long way since last year as far as the velocity and spin.

"But the change and curve are the two that I'd like to develop a little more. You can get away with having a good fastball and being able to locate it, but the higher you go up [in the system], obviously you're going to have to throw your secondary stuff for strikes," he added.

In late July, Davis awoke with minor back tightness the day he was scheduled to start in Jamestown against the Jammers, and after consulting with trainers, heeded their advice to sit out. Davis had been averaging roughly four innings per start to that point, but since his return he pitched only 2 2/3 innings in each of his previous two appearances before going four in his last game.

This limitation was set to prevent Davis from overworking his body, according to Staten Island pitching coach Carlos Chantres.

"I wanted to make sure his back was alright," Chantres said. "It's good that he stayed healthy and was able to give us innings. What I liked is that he stayed down on his pitches.. his fastball command wasn't his usual, and that's going to happen especially when you take some time off from the mound."

Though Davis threw mostly fastballs in his shortened outing -- also a plan predetermined with coaches -- he believes that he'll test the capability of his changeup and curveball more as the season wears on.

"I'm going to try to mix it up a little more," he said. "[The other day] it was more about getting my feet wet a little bit, really pound the zone with fastballs, and I was able to do that fairly well.

I just wanted to make sure that the fastball was there, the command was still there, and while maybe I could've made a couple different pitches here and there, I was pretty pleased with how it went."

The righty hopes that his secondary pitches will match the consistency and dependability of his out-pitch, the two-seam fastball.

"Usually I'll go to [the two-seam] if i'm trying to get a ground ball double play or if the infield is in and I'm trying to keep the ball down, but it's been one of my better pitches this year, so we've gone to that whenever we've needed it," he said.

Chantres agrees that the young pitcher needs to enhance his weaker pitches in order to move up in the system.

"I think he needs to throw [his secondary pitches] more, especially early in the count so that he can get a feel for it, and that's the only way you're going to develop these pitches," he said.

"The more you throw it, the more you get it, and as he climbs the ladder to Double-A and hopefully the big leagues, he'll be able to throw those pitches whenever he wants and in any count."

Finally healthy, Davis, who has allowed just one home run this season and has been promoted to low-A Charleston, continues to work on throwing knee-high strikes while the rest of us wonder how high up in the system the humble youngster will go.

"We try to get as many ground ball outs as we can. I've been fortunate this year -- maybe the wind's been blowing in a couple starts, but I try to give the defense the best chance to make the play. And that's with throwing sinkers, four-seams down in the zone, really commanding the bottom of the zone -- it's worked out," he concluded.

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