Cubs

How Wade Davis transformed into an elite pitcher by simply not caring

How Wade Davis transformed into an elite pitcher by simply not caring

MESA, Ariz. - Wade Davis doesn't listen to Beethoven before games anymore.

Not because his musical tastes have changed, but because he's one of the few baseball players who has moved away from rituals as he's grown in his career.

He used to listen to Beethoven as a way to chill out before pitching after coaches told him he needed to slow down and stop getting so amped up.

Now in a role as a closer, he doesn't do anything before games because he never knows for sure when he'll pitch.

"I try to stay away from rituals that I might be relying on," Davis said. "In the bullpen, you don't have as much time. There's that big gap of time where you're not going to be able to have that type of safety net.

"So I stopped doing that in general. I used to rely on, 'Oh, I'm listening to this music to get me in the right mindset.' I should already be in the right mindset.

"The preparation should be the ritual. Everything you've done the whole season, the winter, whatever gets you there."

In a game often dictated by superstitions and tradition, Davis has transformed into one of the best pitchers in the league — regardless of role — by unconventional means.

Among pitchers who have tossed at least 20 innings since the start of the 2014 season, Davis leads Major League Baseball in ERA (1.18), ahead of guys like Zach Britton, Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Clayton Kershaw.

Not bad for a guy who struggled with inconsistency as a starting pitcher and posted a 4.26 ERA through the first five seasons of his career.

So how did he do it?

For starters, he just stopped giving a damn.

Like when he could record only one out in his Cubs debut Sunday while giving up three runs on three hits and a walk against the Texas Rangers.

No matter.

When manager Joe Maddon went out to retrieve Davis from the mound, the new Cubs closer was smiling. 

"[I've stopped] caring about a lot of things," Davis said. "For example, that game [Sunday]. If I had a bad spring training outing then, people asking me questions like, 'What happened out there?' and I'm thinking there's something wrong, I should've done better. Instead of having the mindset of what it actually is. It is a training month, training for the season. 

"So I don't worry about little things anymore like that. Just trying to move it on to the next day and that type of stuff."

Clearly that mindset is serving him well.

Davis moved to the Kansas City bullpen in 2014 after struggling as a starter in his first year with the Royals (5.32 ERA) and wound up posting ridiculous numbers: 0.97 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 12.1 K/9 and only 3 homers allowed. He actually went all of 2014 (72 innings) without surrendering a longball.

He also allowed only one run and 19 baserunners across 25 postseason innings as he formed a dynamic back end of the bullpen (along with Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland) that lifted the Royals to back-to-back World Series appearances, including a 2015 title.

It's not like Davis had a poor season last year (1.87 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 0 HRs allowed), but 2016 was marred by a forearm issue that persisted throughout the season, limiting him to just 45 games and 43.1 innings.

The Cubs took a chance on Davis this winter, sending Jorge Soler and his enormous potential to Kansas City for the 31-year-old right-hander's final season before free agency.

It's also a reunion for Davis and Maddon, who worked together for four years with the Tampa Bay Rays from 2009-12 before Davis was sent to Kansas City in a trade that involved James Shields, Jake Odorizzi, Wil Myers and Davis' now-teammate Mike Montgomery.

Despite recording 1,376 outs for Maddon's Rays, Davis can still surprise his manager.

In Davis' appearance Sunday, Maddon was surprised to see the new closer throwing so hard.

"I'm used to seeing him throw 86, 87, 88 mph the first time he pitches," Maddon said. "He was at 92-94 mph and he hit 95 mph. That's quite a leap for me watching him."

But that was just the first step in Davis' 2017 season, a year in which his only goals are to stay healthy and help the Cubs win as much as possible.

He's not content with the elite level he's reached in his career.

When asked what lessons he can pass along to young Cubs relievers like Carl Edwards Jr., Davis balked at the notion that he is a teacher and not still a pupil:

"Maybe I'll learn something from them."

Cubs map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Cubs map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel is one step closer to joining the Cubs bullpen.

According to Patrick Mooney of The Athletic, Kimbrel will join Triple-A Iowa and make his first appearance on Tuesday, against the Sacramento River Cats.

While the Cubs officially signed him on June 7, Kimbrel has yet to pitch in actual games. The 31-year-old has been in a condensed spring training program at the Cubs' Arizona complex, throwing live batting practice on both Thursday and Saturday.

The Cubs haven't revealed an official timeline for Kimbrel to join the 25-man roster, as they are basing things off of how he feels. The expectation is he will pitch in about five games with Iowa before joining the Cubs. However, both Theo Epstein and Kimbrel acknowledged how the goal isn't to rush the closer back into MLB action.

"We're not gonna rush it," Epstein said. "It's gonna be tempting to get him here as soon as possible, but we're trying to plan this thing the right way so that he could be in a position to succeed not just immediately but in October. That's gonna be our guiding principle as we go."

"We sat down and put a gameplan together — something to work off of," Kimbrel said. "But at the end of the day, it's based off how I recover, how I get ready. This isn't about getting back on the field as fast as I can. This is about being the best that I can be in October and down the stretch and doing what I came here to do for this team."

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Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

There were some added stakes to Saturday night’s Cubs-Dodgers matchup. Darvish made his first start at Dodger Stadium since his infamous Game 7 loss in the 2017 World Series, looking for a great effort in front of a fan base that had their up-and-downs in terms of their relationship with him. He (maybe) took a small jab at the Dodgers before the game had even started, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't worried about being booed because “the Dodgers don't have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”

Well Dodgers faithful certainly got the message and made sure to let Darvish hear it.

However, Darvish got the last laugh on Saturday night. He pitched a stellar seven innings. Over those seven innings, Darvish gave up 1 ER on 2 hits and also notched 10 strikeouts.

Darvish has been hitting his stride as of late, maintaining a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts.

All of that being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of Darvish’s teammates. His great outing helped keep the Cubs in the game, but the gutsy performances of Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop are what won the contest.

Dodgers All-Star relief pitcher Kenley Jansen had a 10-game scoreless streak coming into Saturday night, but one swing of Rizzo’s bat was all that was needed to restore balance to the everlasting battle of pitcher versus hitter. After Jansen hit Kris Bryant with a pitch to put him on base, Rizzo activated “clutch mode”, mashing a 400-foot bomb out to right field.

Though small, Saturday night’s homer gives Rizzo a three-game hitting streak, perhaps forecasting that things are trending  upwards for the first baseman as the Cubs look to close out the series against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday night. And not to be left out of the fun, Pedro Strop came in to face the Justin Turner, MVP hopeful Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty to nail down the save.

Never afraid of high-pressure moments, Stop came through big time.

Strop got a ground out from Turner, struck out Bellinger and Beaty in his 15-pitch save effort. This was a much-needed win for the Cubs, who have well-documented struggles on the road. As they look to split the four-game set with the Dodgers on Sunday night, the Cubs can be pleased with their fight this week.

Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was the Cubs first win of the season after trailing through six innings, as they were 0-23 in such situations prior to the victory. Amid a season that has been fraught with injury and general roster construction concerns, it was wonderful to see the Cubs pull out a tough win lead by the much-maligned Darvish and the never-quit attitude of his teammates.