Davis forcing himself into roster talks
Big right-hander making run at rotation, long-reliever role
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Though very little was said about him early, Jason Davis is making a late run -- and a pretty good one at that -- to make the Pirates' Opening Day roster.
General manager Neal Huntington characterized Davis as on the outside looking in when it comes to the final two open rotation spots. Some combination of Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens and Virgil Vasquez will likely assume those two vacancies. But Davis is presenting himself as an intriguing bullpen option should the Pirates decide to carry a long reliever in the 'pen.
The Pirates are still unsure as to whether or not they will carry a defined long reliever to start the season. That decision will hinge partially on how confident Huntington and manager John Russell are with the starting rotation's ability to pitch deep into games. But should the Pirates decide to carry a long reliever, it is setting up to be Davis' job.
"He's doing some good things," Russell said. "He's progressing nicely. He's throwing well. We're going to keep giving him an opportunity to go out there."
Davis, who spent most of the 2008 season as a starter, got a bit of a late start in extending his arm out this spring because of a slight hamstring issue. In the past week, though, Davis has made three two-inning appearances and will continue to add to that innings length during the next two weeks.
If Davis does not make the Major League bullpen, he will start the season in the rotation at Triple-A Indianapolis. That would provide the Pirates with the option of calling Davis up to Pittsburgh if injuries or ineffectiveness in the big league rotation creates the need for the addition of a starter.
"We still like Jason and feel like he can be a solid Major League pitcher for us," Huntington said.
After allowing one run in his first spring appearance, Davis has strung together 10 scoreless innings in his last seven appearances. During that span, he has allowed just six hits and walked two. He has eight strikeouts.
Davis has benefited from work that he has done with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan to limit the movement of his head during his delivery. The 6-foot-6 right-hander had a tendency to let his head fly out toward first base, which in turn has affected his command in the past. Repetition of a more stable motion has already noticeably improved the quality of his pitches.
"He's got to rely more on command now than he did," Russell said. "Sometimes that's an adjustment for a pitcher who is used to raring back to let it go. He's made nice progress."
When Davis arrived at Spring Training, it looked like he was an outside shot at best to make the big league team out of camp. That wasn't necessarily a result of anything Davis had or hadn't done. It was more of a consequence of the numerous starting candidates the Pirates had.
But that starting list has been whittled down, and there has been some disappointment in the fact that a number of those rotation candidates haven't performed that well this spring. All combined, it has Davis garnering a closer look.
Davis made 14 appearances (four starts) for the Pirates last season. He finished 2-4 with a 5.29 ERA, issuing 17 walks and striking out 13 in 34 innings. His numbers were better as a starter than they were out of the bullpen.
Davis spent the majority of the season, though, in Triple-A, where he went 6-9 with a 4.41 ERA in 21 appearances (20 starts). The Pirates non-tendered Davis this offseason to avoid having to potentially go to an arbitration hearing with the one-time Cleveland prospect. The club then signed him to a Minor League contract in January.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.