Davies reports to Nats seeking a return to past form

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Pitchers and catchers had already reported to camps throughout Arizona and Florida, and Zach Davies was still sitting at home, waiting to figure out where he would be playing this season. The call from agent Scott Boras finally came last Wednesday with news of a minor league contract offer from the Nationals.

Davies took a couple of days “to see what else was out there,” and made the decision Friday night to accept the Nats’ offer. The veteran right-hander signed the deal Sunday, flew to West Palm Beach on Monday and today donned his new uniform for the first time.

And why was this the right choice for Davies?

“It’s a young, up-and-coming team,” he said. “I think it’s one of those (types of) organizations I’ve been with in the past. I know how it works. I’m trying to give myself an MLB opportunity somewhere along the line. And I’ll just try to help the team however I can.”

The Nationals had been in the market for rotation depth all winter. They arrived in Florida without having achieved that goal. Davies may not fit the description of a proven starter who can challenge Trevor Williams or Jake Irvin for a spot in the Opening Day rotation, but he’s a viable option if something happens to one of the projected starting five, whether during the spring or sometime after the season begins.

“He’s a guy we faced, we know,” manager Davey Martinez said. “When he’s good, he can be really good.”

Davies, alas, wasn’t really good last season. After a strong debut – one run over five innings – for the Diamondbacks at Dodger Stadium, he strained an oblique muscle in his second outing and spent the next seven weeks on the injured list.

Davies would return to pitch for Arizona for 1 1/2 months before a back injury – he admits it was probably connected to the earlier oblique issue – sidelined him again. By the time he returned in September, he was no longer effective. And a young Diamondbacks club that played its way into a wild card berth and ultimately a surprise trip to the World Series left Davies behind.

The injuries forced Davies to scramble, and things only snowballed on him from there. He finished with a 7.00 ERA in 18 starts, a far cry from the respectable 4.14 mark he established over the previous eight seasons with the Brewers, Padres and Cubs.

Now 31, Davies believes he’s had a chance to reset not only his body but his mind as well as he attempts to recapture his prior pitching form.

“Injuries, I felt like I lost some time. I put more pressure on myself to try and perform,” he said. “And any added pressure is not necessary in this game. We all know how tough it is. That being said, I went into the offseason trying to clean the slate, try to wipe my memory, get ready for this season and battle for a spot on the team this year and see where it goes.”

A control specialist who relies on a 90-mph sinker to induce ground balls instead of overpowering hitters, Davies worries he got away from what made him successful in the past – sinkers, changeups – last year and started throwing more four-seam fastballs and cutters.

As he pondered things this offseason, he decided to get back to the pitcher he used to be. And not to stress too much if something doesn’t work out along the way.

“I just came into this year with a goal of going back to being myself, having fun with the game, enjoying every minute I’m out there, regardless of how you’re performing,” he said. “Along with a lot of these guys, I’m sure, I’m my own worst critic. When I’m not performing, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I think in those moments, I kind of lost a little bit of the reason why I’m out there: Having fun playing ballgames and just playing baseball. This offseason, that was a big thought of mine: Go out there, have fun, enjoy your time no matter where it's at, no matter what you’re doing. And go back to playing baseball.”

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