KC Royals: It’s time to think hard about Wade Davis

(Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports) /

Is it time for the KC Royals to part ways with Wade Davis? That’s the question that should be facing the club after manager Mike Matheny trusted Davis Sunday to bring the Royals home with a series-winning victory in Chicago.

And it’s a decision the club should make soon, perhaps even before it resumes play Tuesday.

Matheny gave the ball and a one-run lead to Davis, once but no longer one of the game’s premier closers, to start the bottom of the ninth against the White Sox. Josh Staumont, Matheny’s primary ninth inning choice for the past three weeks, presumably wasn’t available after pitching Friday and Saturday.

Sunday’s situation is precisely the type Davis became accustomed to years ago and thrived on for so long, and one the Royals presented to him when they took the lead with two runs in the seventh, a razor-thin edge Greg Holland protected by retiring the Sox in order in the bottom half of the frame and working out of a bases-loaded crunch in the eighth.

Davis, though, couldn’t match Holland’s heroics. Tim Anderson started Chicago’s ninth with a ground-rule double to right, Adam Eaton’s sacrifice bunt advanced Anderson to third, and Yoan Moncada singled Anderson home to tie the game 3-3.

That set the table for the dangerous Jose Abreu, who two quick Davis strikes put behind in the count 0-2. But Davis’ next two pitches missed to even the count and, after Abreu fouled one off, Davis hit him to put runners at first and second.

Yermin Mercedes followed with a single; Kansas City and Davis appeared to catch a break when right fielder Whit Merrifield threw Moncada out trying to score on the play.

But on a 1-1 pitch to Yasmani Grandal, Davis bounced a wild breaking pitch in the dirt that evaded Cam Gallagher and Abreu raced home with the winning run.

The KC Royals, clearly thinking Abreu missed the plate but Gallagher didn’t miss the tag before Abreu reached in to touch the dish, wasted no time asking for a review. The play looked agonizingly close from televised replays, but another angle shown after New York ruled the call stood appeared to reveal a gap of a few inches between Gallagher’s mitt and Abreu.

Matheny, who may have been privy to another angle or other angles, wasn’t happy, as mlb.com’s Royals beat writer Anne Rogers reported after the game:

Whether the call was right or wrong, though, isn’t the point. How Davis pitched, which is what put Abreu in position to score the winner, is.

Wade Davis isn’t proving he can contribute significantly to the KC Royals.

Since saving the Royals’ Opening Day win, Davis has had no clearly established role in the KC bullpen, a circumstance not terribly surprising considering Matheny’s philosophy of picking in the moment the pitcher best suited for situations presented in real time. It’s a bit curious, however, that Sunday’s assignment was only Davis’ second save opportunity of the season.

What he did with Sunday’s chance was more typical of the pitcher Davis seems to have become than the one he used to be. This isn’t criticism based on one gut-wrenching loss—he’s now surrendered runs in eight of 14 appearances (including four to the Twins April 30), a collective result unthinkable of Davis in his prime. Adding the two runs he surrendered Sunday, Davis now owns a 7.53 ERA, an unacceptable mark for a relief pitcher.

Davis’ breaking stuff can still be excellent, but he doesn’t get hitters out like he once did. His mound demeanor doesn’t project his past dominance and confidence. No longer should anyone assume his appearance assures anything.

That Davis struggles isn’t that surprising—his potential downside was apparent even before he rejoined the club over the winter. Whether he survives the 2021 campaign with the Royals depends on him pitching like the Davis of old, not like the one who struggled in Colorado the past two seasons and ultimately lost his job.

But save for his Cactus League performances this spring, Davis hasn’t been Wade Davis this year, and may never be again.

That’s why the KC Royals need to look hard at Davis and what he brings to their table. Sadly, it may be time for franchise and player to part ways.

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The Royals must seriously consider Wade Davis’ future with the franchise. A decision shouldn’t be delayed.