The move to the bullpen was apparently a good one for Erik Davis. Harrisburg Senators' Pitching Coach Paul Menhart, in a May 2012 article by Patriot-News' writer Geoff Morrow, told the reporter that the success then-25-year-old right-hander had after making the transition from the starting rotation to the bullpen in his second year in the Washington Nationals' system following a March 2011 trade that brought him to the Nats from the San Diego Padres in exchange for IF Alberto Gonzalez, changed the perception in the organization of the right-hander out of Stanford who had struggled as a starter with High-A Potomac and Harrisburg in 2011. "'I think the whole organization thinks differently of him,'" Menhart explained:
"'There's a different fire about it. I don't think it's too far-fetched to compare him to somebody like [new Washington Nationals closer and former minor league starter] Tyler Clippard.'"
Davis was (7-3) with five saves, a 2.52 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 18 BBs (2.52 BB/9) and 69 Ks (9.65 K/9) in 40 games and 64.1 IP at Double-A Harrisburg in 2012. The converted starter ended the year at Triple-A Syracuse with 8.2 IP in which he had a 4.15 ERA, 4.24 FIP, two walks and five Ks in eight appearances. Following the minor league season, Karns went to the Dominican Winter League where he pitched for the Gigantes del Cibao, going (3-0) with one save, a 0.47 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, .149 BAA, seven walks (3.32 BB/9) and 19 Ks (9.00 K/9) in 19.0 IP. After a strong season in the Nats' system and the DWL, Davis was added to the Nationals' 40-Man roster to protect him from selection in the Rule 5 Draft.
In a post at the Nationals' official blog, Curly W Live, Harrisburg Senators' Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations Terry Byrom, who watched Davis closely while the right-hander was at Double-A last year, compared him to another starter-turned-reliever who made a quick ascent through the minor leagues once he shifted to the bullpen. "I would say at this point that [Davis] and Christian Garcia are very similar,'" Mr. Byrom said, "'Garcia probably has better stuff, but I’m not sure I would say it’s a lot better. Erik’s stuff is good enough to play in the big leagues, absolutely, no doubt about it. He could make that roster out of Spring Training.'"
Davey Johnson said Davis and some of the other pitchers sent to Triple-A Syracuse on Monday are on the verge of making it to the majors, but after yesterday's moves, the right-hander won't be making the Opening Day roster as part of the defending NL East Champs' right-hand heavy pen. The Nats' 70-year-old skipper was impressed with what he saw from the now-26-year-old reliever, however.
"Prior to last year he was a starter," Johnson reminded reporters on Monday, "and I liked what I saw. I know he was a little amped up and I congratulated him on getting the save up here. It all [comes down to] them knowing about themselves, to maintain throwing [it] over, not only their fastball and getting ahead of hitters, but also throwing their offspeed stuff over too. He has big league stuff. The command of both those pitches and a little more experience and if he does that it's all about controlling your emotions and staying within yourself and reading hitters and reading situations and pitching accordingly and that comes from experience, but he's been impressive."
In seven games and 8.0 Grapefruit League innings pitched this Spring, Davis gave up four hits, two walks and one earned run, striking out eight while posting a 1.13 ERA, .148 BAA and a 0.75 WHIP with the Nationals before he was optioned back to Triple-A Syracuse, where he'll start the 2013 season and begin working toward his MLB debut. The Nats' skipper said he talked to the manager of the Nationals' top affiliate about Davis and how he'll be used at Syracuse.
"My conversation with [Syracuse Chiefs' manager] Tony [Beasley]," Johnson said, "He's counting on [Davis] for late inning relief, seven, eight and nine, maybe closing games, so this is going to be a big year for him too. As well as a lot of these guys." As the Nationals' manager explained on Monday, after the latest round of options and re-assignments cut the Nats' Spring Training roster to 33, there are a few prospects who were sent down to Triple-A yesterday that are capable of contributing at the major league level.
"Any time you're right behind players that are playing on a first division ballclub," Johnson said, "with some young talent, it's not going to be a cakewalk to get here, but they're certainly capable of getting to the point where somebody's going to want them and if they do the things they're capable of, if there's not room here, there's going to be room on 29 other clubs. So, that's the good thing. There's the good and the bad, when you're behind a club that's a pennant contender, they're all first division players knocking on the door behind you."