If the Brewers aren’t going to be adding another starting pitcher -- or any more big free agents -- Zach Davies is going to have to carry an important role in the starting rotation.
But now it looks like there will be a bump in the road in preparing for the start of the season for the team’s presumptive #2 starter -- Davies is suffering from a ‘minor’ oblique strain and will have to miss his next scheduled spring appearance.
#Brewers RHP Zach Davies has left oblique strain. Will miss one turn. Not considered serious.— Tom (@Haudricourt) March 7, 2018
CC said Davies will throw a bullpen in few days to test oblique. Said still time to get ready for season.— Tom (@Haudricourt) March 7, 2018
While the Brewers seem confident this is just a minor setback and won’t get in the way of Davies being ready for the start of the season, it’s still concerning for a pitcher who has struggled to be sharp during the early parts of the season, even when getting through spring training fully healthy.
Davies struggled through much of the first half of the 2017 season, putting up a 4.90 ERA in 18 starts before the All-Star break (including 18 earned runs in his first 4 starts, covering 19.2 innings) before turning things around and becoming arguably the team’s best pitcher in the second half. He finished the year with a 2.87 ERA in his final 15 starts.
The early-season issues with consistency also came up during his first full big league season in 2016, when he allowed 14 runs (13 earned) in his first 3 starts of that season before settling into what would become his typical high-3 ERA groove.
As Adam McCalvy noted at brewers.com over the weekend, much of Davies’ problems to start last year stemmed from him being unable to throw his secondary pitches for strikes. McCalvy points out that Statcast shows 38% of Davies’ pitches during those first 4 starts of 2017 were changeups, curveballs or cutters, and 45% of those were called balls. He turned things around when he was able to start throwing those pitches for strikes -- over his next 29 starts, only 33.5% of his offspeed offerings were ruled out of the strikezone.
That comes down to starting the season sharp, and considering that’s been a problem for him in each of his first two seasons in the majors, even missing one turn in the spring rotation might cause some worry.
To Davies’ credit, he’s been making a conscious effort this spring to focus more on his secondary pitches in order to knock that rust off quicker and have his command up to par once the games start counting.
But even if Davies is still able to get his pitch count up in time to take the mound as expected during the season’s first series in San Diego, will the command of his offspeed stuff be there? It’ll likely depend on if he truly does only miss one appearance, and if the effects of the strained oblique linger.
More assurances that the oblique injury is minor and David Stearns isn’t about to panic-sign Lance Lynn:
Craig Counsell on Davies' oblique: “He had a good day today playing catch, so we didn’t have to really shut him down. This is a cautious thing more than anything.”— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) March 7, 2018
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Statcast