Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - June 7, 2013

Keeping his job is the next goal for Cardinal grad

Former Stanford pitcher Davis has two outings under his belt with the Washington Nationals

by David Driver

Just a few days after making his dreamy debut in Major League Baseball with the Washington Nationals, former Stanford pitcher Erik Davis was roughly returned to reality.

Davis made his second big league outing, and first at home, on Wednesday as he allowed three runs in one inning in a 10-1 loss to the New York Mets. Davis did fan three batters.

He made his big league debut with Washington on Saturday in Atlanta, coming out of the bullpen to retire all five batters that he faced, with two strikeouts.

"It was a dream come true and I was happy I did well," said Davis, 26, sitting in the Washington dugout prior to batting practice on Tuesday.

Davis, a 2004 graduate of Mountain View High School, had a solid career at Stanford before he was drafted in the 13th round in 2008 by the San Diego Padres. His early minor league career included stops in the Single-A California League.

But in spring training of 2011, as he prepared to head out to another San Diego farm team, he was traded to the Washington Nationals, a franchise that had lost more than 100 games at the big league level in 2010.

"You know, it was crazy. It was right at the end of spring training and everyone was planning on where they were going (with the Padres)," he said. "Not only did I change teams but fly across the country and meet all of the different people I had no idea who they were. It was definitely a shock to the system. It took me a little while to adjust."

Davis had made trips to Washington with his father, Tom, who works for NASA, but that didn't help much in baseball circles.

"I was going to places I was not really quite familiar with," he added. "There was no sense of comfort-ability with anything and the whole situation. I definitely could have handled it better. The first time that happens it is tough for anyone. In the long run it made me stronger."

And in the long run, perhaps, it helped him reach the Major Leagues.

Davis, after pitching in the minors for Washington in 2011 and 2012, began this season with Triple-A Syracuse of the International League.

Then, he got the call from Washington.

"First time out he looked great," Washington manager Davey Johnson told reporters after his debut.

Now the challenge will be for Davis to stick with the Nationals, who made a flurry of roster moves on Tuesday in a season that has not lived up to the preseason hype.

"Stick with your strength. That is what got you here. I stuck with my strength, which is throwing strikes. I hope to build off that outing (in Atlanta)," said Davis, who throws a two-seam fastball, circle change and spike curveball. "I try to mix speeds. I try to make batters uncomfortable."

Among the moves involving pitchers this week: veteran relievers Henry Rodriguez and Zach Duke were designated for assignment while lefty reliever Ian Krol was called up from Double-A Harrisburg.

Does Davis worry about going back to Syracuse, especially after Wednesday's outing?

"I try not to think about it," he said. "Things will take care of itself. As long as I am here I am going to make the most of it. Hopefully I can stay. My goal is to be here and stay here."

Jeff Kobernus, an infielder/outfielder who played with Davis at Syracuse this season before getting called up to Washington, said "he has an above average fastball and he can throw that change up."

Davis said the key for him is when the Nationals made him a reliever after he had been a starting pitcher with the Padres.

"Erik's first year with us was a transitional year for him," according to Doug Harris, the director of player development for Washington. "It's common for young players to take a bit of time to get comfortable when coming to a new organization. He had been a highly successful pitcher and experienced some challenges that year. At the conclusion of that season, we felt he may ultimately be best suited in a bullpen role. He took off immediately the next spring when we made that switch."

"His fastball velocity grew, his breaking ball improved and both complimented the quality change up he already had," added Harris, a former minor league pitcher. "He pitched very aggressively and consistently at both 2A and 3A in that role with much success. He was put on the ML roster after a strong stint in the Dominican and carried it into this season. His hard work has paid off and put himself in position to help us at the ML level."

When Davis arrived in Atlanta one of the Washington players he met was fellow reliever Drew Storen, his teammate at Stanford.

"It is just awesome," Davis said of joining Storen. And Davis has followed Washington reliever Tyler Clippard, who also has a good changeup and wears sports goggles similar to ones worn by Davis.

Davis took the 25-man roster spot of outfielder Bryce Harper, who went on the DL with bursitis in his left knee. Davis was 1-2, 3.00 in 21 games with seven saves at Syracuse. In 24 innings of work he had 27 strikeouts with eight walks and allowed 22 hits. He was 15-7, 4.80 in 78 games, with 27 starts, in four seasons with Stanford.

He was acquired from San Diego in exchange for infielder Alberto Gonzalez by the Nationals and he pitched that year at the Single-A and Double-A level. Davis, a right-hander, was 7-3, 2.52 in 40 games out of the bullpen for Double-A Harrisburg last year and was 1-0, 4.15 in eight games for Triple-A Syracuse.

"Everyone has been very (helpful) to me. There are so many good guys on this team," Davis said. "I certainly feel welcome by everyone on the team. They take their time to ask me how I am doing and if I need anything. It is a good feeling to have."

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