Nats add veteran starter Davies on minor-league deal

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Friday saw the Nationals address a need for bullpen depth with the addition of veteran reliever Jacob Barnes. Today saw the Nats address a need for rotation depth with the addition of veteran starter Zach Davies.

The Nationals and Davies agreed to a minor-league deal with an invitation to big-league camp, according to a source familiar with the terms. It won’t become official until he reports to West Palm Beach and passes a physical, but club officials expect that to happen by Monday.

Davies, 31, is an accomplished major-league starter with a 60-58 record and 4.36 ERA in 200 career outings, more than half of those coming with the Brewers. The right-hander is coming off a ragged season with the Diamondbacks, though, in which he finished with a 7.00 ERA in 18 starts and missed time with oblique and back injuries.

The Nationals don’t view Davies as a serious challenger to unseat one of the current projected five starters (Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, Patrick Corbin, Jake Irvin, Trevor Williams) but would likely give him the first opportunity to take one of those slots should there be an opening.

It’s a role not unlike the one held last spring by Chad Kuhl, who came to camp on a minor-league deal but wound up making the Opening Day rotation after Cade Cavalli suffered a torn elbow ligament in March. By season’s end, Kuhl was one of only eight big-league starters the Nats used, the second-lowest total in the sport.

“What we did last year with our starters was incredible, to go with just (eight) starters all year long,” manager Davey Martinez said. “So we want to make sure we’re covered in case anything does happen. And bringing in a guy like (Davies) who’s done really well over his career, it’s nice to have him.”

After six mostly successful seasons with the Brewers and Padres – he was 50-36 with a 3.79 ERA in 123 starts from 2015-20 – Davies has been more erratic in three seasons since with the Cubs and Diamondbacks. He bottomed out last year in Arizona, but he was sidelined only two starts in due to an oblique strain.

Davies returned to pitch from June through the first half of July, then landed back on the injured list with lower back inflammation. He came back in September but wound up losing his rotation spot to others who led the Diamondbacks through their run to the World Series.

A sinker specialist who rarely throws harder than 90 mph, Davies was roughed up more on that pitch last season than in the past; he began incorporating a four-seam fastball more and had more success with it.

“We looked back, and a lot of his misses were just misses,” Martinez said. “We’re going to hopefully get him more in tune with what he used to do. He’s not afraid to throw the ball over the plate. Throw strikes. And get him to work ahead a little bit. And we’ll see how that works out for him.”

Davies should get ample opportunity to pitch this spring, taking up innings and allowing the organization not to push its younger pitchers more than anyone prefers. Among the young starters in big-league camp for the first time are left-handers DJ Herz and Mitchell Parker, plus right-hander Cole Henry. (Martinez raved about the latter two, who threw bullpen sessions this morning.)

The additions of veterans like Davies on minor-league deals help ease the workload on those prospects and allow them to develop on their own timelines and not be rushed to the majors when a need arises.

“It definitely, definitely helps,” Martinez said. “And I’m glad that we’re going out there (and signing veterans). I know (general manager Mike Rizzo) and our analytical guys … they’re always looking. One, to get better. And two, so we have guys who are capable of coming up here and helping us. He’s a guy we faced, we know. When he’s good, he can be really good. And hopefully, we can try to get him there.”

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