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Nationals' reliever Erik Davis ready to contribute again after Tommy John surgery

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Washington Nationals' reliever Erik Davis watched the Nats' run at the NL East crown from afar as he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery this season, but he told reporters recently he's hoping to contribute when he returns to the mound in 2015.

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The Washington Nationals acquired right-hander Erik Davis in a March 2011 trade that sent veteran infielder Alberto Gonzalez to the San Diego Padres.

In his second season in the Nats' organization, the former Stanford Cardinal selected in the 13th Round of the 2008 Draft, moved from a starting role to the bullpen.

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 ⅓ IP at Double-A Harrisburg in 2012. He ended the year at Triple-A Syracuse with 8 ⅔ IP in which he had a 4.15 ERA, 4.24 FIP, two walks and five Ks in eight appearances.

Davis then 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 IP.

The Nationals added Davis to the 40-Man roster that winter to protect him from selection in the Rule 5 Draft.

"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..." -Davey Johnson on Erik Davis, Spring 2013

Working out of the bullpen at Triple-A in 2013, Davis was (3-7) with 15 saves, a 3.10 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 20 walks (3.44 BB/9) and 54 Ks (9.29 K/9) in 52 ⅓  IP.

He was called up to make his major league debut in June of 2013 and was called back up in September, throwing a total of 8 ⅔ innings for the Nationals over which he put up a 3.12 ERA, a 0.62 FIP, a walk and 12 Ks.

In February of 2014, however, the right-hander was shut down at the start of Spring Training and placed on the 60-Day DL when he experienced a recurrence of elbow discomfort which first cropped up when he started his throwing program earlier in the winter.

NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman wrote at the time that the pain returned once he started throwing again and he was shut down with Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo telling reporters at the time that Davis faced 6-8 weeks of recovery:

"'We felt that the prudent thing to do was just to be to put him on the 60-day DL,' Rizzo said. 'Allow him to take his time, because it’s probably going to be 6-to-8 weeks before he gets rolling anyway.'"

Davis tried to throw again in late March, but only for one day, and on April 2nd, he underwent Tommy John surgery, with Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore reporting at the time that Davis, "... was told he suffered 'substantial damage' to his right ulnar collateral ligament."

When he spoke to reporters at NatsFest two weeks back, Davis said he'd already been throwing for six months and was back at it again as he prepared for Spring Training.

"I started throwing mid-August," Davis said, "and I got about six weeks of throwing in down in Florida and I left right around when the playoffs started and took a few months off and I started my throwing program back this week.

"It lit a fire under me. It made me realize just how badly I want it. How badly I want to get back and how badly I want to contribute..." - Erik Davis on watching the Nats go to postseason as he rehabbed

"So, the idea is when we report to camp I should be about ready to start my mound progression. And in a perfect world I'll be able to leave Florida in late April, early May is the most likely scenario at this point."

Watching the Nationals make another postseason run wasn't easy for Davis, who seemed to be on the verge of breaking through at the major league level before he suffered the elbow injury.

"It is tough," he admitted. "Especially with how good I was feeling last year going into the year. Obviously, a little jealous watching everybody have such a good time this year and wish I could have been a part of it, but it lit a fire under me. It made me realize just how badly I want it. How badly I want to get back and how badly I want to contribute to this team and hopefully help us get over the edge and win a title."

The time off has served him well too, Davis explained, allowing him to bulk up a bit as he worked his way back.

"I think my body definitely started filled out a bit more. I was able to really concentrate on conditioning and all that stuff. But I mean, time will tell as far as how my performance is. I felt great when I was throwing and the ball was coming out really well out of my hand and I'm really looking forward to getting out there again and just competing. I miss the competition more than anything."

Within the organization, there are plenty of examples of pitchers who have successfully returned from Tommy John though and Davis said he hoped to follow the program carefully.

"You see so many guys who have had successful comebacks," he said. "Obviously Stephen [Strasburg] and Jordan [Zimmermann], Taylor Jordan. It's such a common surgery at this point, it was never a question if I was scared or nervous about it. It was just frustration at the timing of when it happened.

"But I've got so many great guys here, we've got a great rehab staff down in Florida, so I'm 100% confident that I can make it back to where I was before and hopefully even better."

There is still a long way to go, however.

"I won't be able to pitch in games in Spring Training," Davis said. "I'm still quite a ways off from actually pitching in a game. But I will be just about ready to start throwing bullpens. We have a very lengthy mound progression before we're even able to get into a game. I have to be throwing off a mound, I think it's two months, before I can face hitters in a live situation."

As much as he'd like to rush back, Davis was clear that he's sticking to the plan and making sure he doesn't suffer any setbacks.

"I'm not exactly young anymore," Davis told reporters.

"I'm 28 years old, I'm trying to get my foot in the door, and I realize that if I were to have a setback it would definitely be detrimental to my career at this point, so I'm just going to trust the system and then go out there and do what I can."