Austin Davis has every reason to be excited by how this spring has gone so far.
Acquired at last summer’s trade deadline in exchange for Michael Chavis, Davis has been one of Boston’s most consistent and effective relievers this season. Entering Wednesday night the 29-year-old lefty had a 1.46 ERA over 25 appearances, led the bullpen with 0.9 wins above replacement and had strung together 13 straight scoreless outings dating back to May 6.
Given how he’d spent his first four years bouncing back and forth between the majors and minors across multiple organizations, this spring has been by far the best of his big league career. Yet nice as the success has been, excited isn’t the word Davis used to describe how he’s feeling.
Instead, he feels like he’s gotten lucky.
“I think there’s a lot of stuff I’m not doing well that I’m getting lucky to get out of the situations, getting behind hitters, walking hitters, stuff like that,” Davis said. “So I don’t ever sit around thinking oh wow this season is going really well, I think more than anything I want to continue to get better, I want to pound the strike zone better and if I do that we’ll see how things end up after 162.”
A former journeyman, getting comfortable is never a luxury Davis has had in his career, and even as he’s made the most of his opportunity with the Red Sox he’s still determined to improve.
Harsh as the self-critique may be, there is merit to his observation that he could benefit from finishing at bats more decisively.
“I think first pitch strikes, competitive pitches in the zone, putting hitters away when I’m 0-2 instead of keeping the at bat longer,” Davis said. “I think pitches per inning, recently quality of contact, two outs no one on and getting out of the inning instead of letting a guy get on and having to make a move and extending our bullpen a little bit more. There are some other things but I’ll leave it at that.”
Even if Davis hasn’t been perfect, he’s far exceeded the relatively limited expectations he had upon his arrival last summer. Davis’ acquisition barely caused a ripple in Boston amid the landslide of blockbusters that shook baseball at the trade deadline, yet Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Davis likely recorded the biggest out of the 2021 season when he held Juan Soto to a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded late in a must-win game against the Nationals.
Since then, Cora said Davis has continued to grow as a pitcher and has now developed into a reliable reliever who can be trusted in a variety of situations.
“Early in the season he was reliant a lot on one pitch and then he started mixing it up and you see the results,” Cora said. “We’ve been using him in different roles and different spots and he’s done an amazing job.”
One of the keys to Davis’ success has been his ability to get both righties and lefties out. While he’s been especially dominant against lefties, holding those batters to a .186 average, Davis has still limited righties to a .222 clip.
Davis has also benefitted from sharing a clubhouse with so many other lefties, saying he’s often applied lessons he’s learned watching Jake Diekman and Matt Strahm to his own at bats against the same hitters later in the game. One particularly notable example, he said, was Shohei Ohtani last week in Los Angeles, who he and Diekman both got out in the club’s 6-5 10-inning win.
Though Boston’s bullpen as a whole has often struggled, particularly in the late innings, Davis has been a notable bright spot who’s played a key role in helping the Red Sox climb back into playoff contention. After years of scratching and clawing for a place on losing teams, Davis has found a home in Boston and now after getting a taste of the postseason last October he has a chance to play a key role in helping the club get back once more.
“It’s been fun being part of a winning team,” Davis said.
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