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' 'super frightening' close call in St. Louis shows how fragile season is

Cubs' 'super frightening' close call in St. Louis shows how fragile season is

All the Cubs wanted before leaving for the ballpark in St. Louis on Friday was “just reassurance” before playing one of the two teams in the majors that had endured a major COVID-19 outbreak.

“And they assured us they were going to communicate every detail of why we should be on the field,” Cubs manager David Ross said.

Ross spoke Saturday morning via Zoom from Chicago — that fact itself a reminder of the details that started pin-balling from all the wrong directions Friday morning.

“It’s just another one of those reminders of how quick things can get out of control right now in this environment,” said Ross, whose team learned early enough to avoid even showing up at Busch Stadium and to reschedule its charter to land at O’Hare before 8 p.m. Friday.

Ross called the communication from Major League Baseball and the Cardinals “outstanding.”

But he paused when asked about just how close their near-miss with the coronavirus was this weekend.

As in: What if the three Cardinals who tested positive Friday (after reportedly being exposed Wednesday) hadn’t gotten their positive results until Saturday instead — after spending Friday night in the same building and on the field with the Cubs?

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“I hadn’t looked at it like that,” Ross said. “It shows how fast it can get out of control. That part of the virus is super frightening.”

At least two of the 16 Cardinals players and staff known to have tested positive in the last 10 days are said to have symptoms, the severity of which are unclear.

But even beyond that reminder of the health-risk roll of the dice for each individual (and his family), Friday’s close call for the Cubs underscores just how fragile baseball’s attempt at a two-month season is.

“We send our best to the Cardinals and those players. It’s a scary time,” Ross said, “and we all want baseball to move forward and guys to be healthy.”

The Cubs are the only team in the league, through at least Friday, who have not had a player test positive.

Two teams, including the Marlins, already have had major outbreaks, with the Cardinals into their second week of postponed series and sleepless nights for their president of baseball operations.

“I don’t know what really our future looks like at this point,” Cards president John Mozeliak said, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Experts who we consulted with gave us advice that we could take that next step forward. I don’t know what the right answer is. Is it two days? Is it five days? Is it 10 days? Or is it two weeks?

“The whole country, the whole world, is facing these same questions. We’re just caught in the middle of it.”

Along with everybody else in baseball.

The Cardinals have played only five games, and their next series, against Pittsburgh, reportedly is on the verge of being postponed as well.

The Cubs’ next opponent, Cleveland, has 16 games in the books with Saturday’s game against the White Sox.

Fifty days remain in the scheduled 60-game season after Saturday.

The 10-3 Cubs have it better than most, even with the lost series against the Cardinals — a postponement that for now looks more like a cause to celebrate than for disappointment.

But what does the league do if the virus doesn’t allow the Cardinals to play by the end of the week? And what if a third team — or a fourth — experiences an outbreak.

And just how close did the Cubs come to becoming that third team if they had played a game or two of that series with asymptomatic, infected Cardinals unwittingly on the same field.

When the Cardinals’ outbreak initially unfolded while the team was in Milwaukee last weekend, one result was Brewers star center fielder Lorenzo Cain becoming one of four players in a two-day span to opt out of playing the rest of the season.

RELATED: Tracking MLB players who have opted out or declined to play

“It’s 2020, where we know we’ve got to take it one day at a time,” Ross said. “We’ve talked about that from the start.”

The Cubs and almost everybody in the league — including Mozeliak’s Cardinals — seem to have taken the health risk and hyper-contagious nature of COVID-19 seriously enough for most of the schedule to be played so far.

The Cardinals, in fact, invested in equipment years ago they have used since to sanitize visiting clubhouses on the road ahead of players occupying them.

The Cubs have exceeded MLB standard safety protocols with impressive enough results that other teams have reached out to discuss their methods.

And yet the Cardinals’ season hangs by a thread. And the Cubs, for all their precautions, might have sidestepped direct exposure by a matter of a few hours, a few reliable tests, and luck.

By extension, if not by definition, the league’s season also hangs by a thread.

“I think we all know that this season is just really a year of who can adjust to a little bit of adversity and some change,” Ross said. “And that’s going to be throughout the season. We know that. And we’ll continue to push forward.”

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How David Ross plans to keep Cubs 'sharp' after Cardinals series postponed

How David Ross plans to keep Cubs 'sharp' after Cardinals series postponed

One phone call Friday morning set in motion a reversal of the Cubs’ weekend plans. Instead of battling the Cardinals in a three-game series at Busch Stadium, they were heading home to Chicago and had four off days to fill before their next game.

“I think it's a little bit of a reset for us,” Cubs manager David Ross said Saturday, “ … and we’ve got continue to try to stay as sharp as we possibly can, get back to maybe work on a few things we might want to clean up in this downtime, and use it to our advantage as best we can.”

With the Cubs’ weekend series against the Cardinals postponed, due to three more members of the Cardinals organization testing positive for COVID-19, Ross said he gave the Cubs position players the option to take Saturday off. For the pitchers, it was a light workout day, a chance to throw a bullpen.

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The Cubs plan to play a simulated game Sunday and have a “fun” competition on Monday, Ross said.

Other aspects of the Cubs’ path forward remain unclear, like when will they make up the postponed series. And even more pressing, which pitcher will start on Tuesday at Cleveland?

Ross said he and his coaches have talked about how the schedule adjustment will affect the starting rotation, but there are still discussions to be had with the pitching staff.

Left-hander Jon Lester, who was supposed to start on Friday, was among those scheduled to throw a bullpen session Saturday.

“Jon especially, a veteran guy, knows how to take care of himself and knows how to back off or give a little more,” Ross said. “…There's no substitute for competition. I think we all know that. And getting out there against another jersey is important. It is important to stay sharp, physically and mentally, and staying ready. But we have a ton of professionals.”

He pointed to the almost four months of off time between the cancellation of Spring Training and the start of the regular season.

 Kyle Hendricks, for example, prepared for the accelerated summer camp so well that he threw a complete game on Opening Day. Any reshuffling of the rotation’s schedule couldn’t be nearly as much of a challenge.

“It's 2020, where we know we've got to take it one day at a time,” Ross said. “… We were planning to play St. Louis, they told us we weren't, so we came home and we adjusted. And we'll do that as best we can to continue this season.”

Ross had been hoping for a different kind of phone call on Friday morning. The Cardinals traveling party produced no new positive COVID-19 tests for consecutive days before MLB cleared the team to return to St. Louis and resume their schedule. The week prior, 13 players and staff members had tested positive.

“Going into it, with all that was going on, we were hoping to hear some news that morning, or just a reassurance,” Ross said, “and they had assured us that they were going to communicate every detail of why they thought we should be on the field.”

Instead, the Cubs received word that Friday’s game had been postponed. Ross described Major League Baseball’s communication as “outstanding.”

The Cubs support staff adjusted on the fly. Director of Major League travel and clubhouse operations Vijay Tekchandani contacted United Airlines to set up a return flight. Team dietitian Jordan Brown arranged for meals at the hotel that weren’t originally on the schedule.

“A lot of adjustments on their part,” Ross said, “and making sure everybody was comfortable and had some downtime but had some space to just get out of their room.”

Tekchandani had chosen a hotel with an outdoor patio that the players could use without running into other hotel guests and while practicing social distancing.

Around 5 p.m., the team learned that the rest of the series had been canceled. Less than an hour later, a bus was at the hotel to take the Cubs to the airport. They were back in Chicago before 8 p.m..

“Everybody was good yesterday,” Ross said of the players. “If I go back to my playing days, no matter what, you kind of welcome an off day in the middle of a long stretch. So, the first off day is always nice, nice and relaxing.”

The Cubs were off to a 10-3 start, in what was originally scheduled to be 17 straight games without an off day. Between a rainout in Cincinnati and the COVID-19 related postponement this weekend, that hasn’t been the case.

Now, the Cubs face a different kind of challenge: carrying momentum through a weekend off.

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