The moment seemed strange, not the kind of situation befitting a once great closer whose blazing fastball and deadly cutter, complemented by a useful curve and slider, made opposing batters fear his very presence. But there was Wade Davis Friday night, in front of the biggest Kauffman Stadium crowd since before the pandemic, entering a game in the eighth inning with his KC Royals leading Minnesota by 12.
Save for Salvador Perez, Greg Holland, Danny Duffy, Jarrod Dyson, and Adalberto Mondesi, Davis is the only active Royal who played for the marvelous Kansas City clubs of 2014 or 2015. Today’s team is much different than those Royals; so, sadly, is Davis, which may account for the assignment he drew Friday night.
Going into the game, Davis was striking out a shade over one hitter per inning, but the 12 runs he’d surrendered in 17.1 frames accounted for an ERA—6.23—much too high for a major league reliever. He’d been scored upon in half his games.
And Davis hadn’t received a save opportunity since Opening Day until manager Mike Matheny handed him one almost three weeks ago. Davis got the ball to open the bottom of the ninth against the White Sox with the Royals ahead by a run. But Davis blew the save, and a series win, by allowing the White Sox two runs and a walk off victory.
He disappeared for 11 days until Matheny summoned him to pitch the sixth and seventh innings against Tampa Bay May 27. The pressure was low—the Rays led 7-2—and Davis was fair, giving up just a single and striking out two. But he also hit a batter.
Matheny gave him another easy assignment Tuesday, and Davis provided a little more hope he might be improving. Gifted with a five-run lead, he retired the Pirates in order to close the KC Royals’ 10-5 win.
Friday may signal that it’s time for Wade Davis and the KC Royals to part.
And there he was again Friday night, beneficiary of a huge eighth inning lead handed to him by a manager probably wanting to give Davis another low-leverage, confidence-boosting situation, or wanting to avoid using a more valuable reliever with two games remaining in KC’s four-game series with the Twins and the Royals suddenly lurking near the early Wild Card hunt.
The move posed little risk to Matheny or his club. After all, a 12-run lead in the eighth is a 12-run lead, and in such situations it rarely matters who’s pitching. And in the end, it didn’t. But Davis’ performance might.
He fell behind 3-1 to leadoff man Trevor Larnach, then walked him on a cutter.
He fell behind 3-1 to Miguel Sano, who blasted a sixth-pitch fastball over the center field wall for his 10th homer of the season.
Nick Gordon then belted Davis’ first offering out to center for another homer.
No real harm was done to his club—Davis retired the next three Twins on grounders and Kansas City still led by nine and won—but Davis, who could end up in the Royals’ Hall of Fame someday, may have seriously damaged any remaining case he had to finish the year in Kansas City.
It’s been two seasons and part of a third since Davis last resembled the dominant closer who had such good years with the Royals, another with the Cubs (32 saves in 2017) and another with Colorado (a National League-leading 43 saves in 2018) before injuries and ineffectiveness struck in 2019 and 2020. He’s some good moments this season, like the nostalgic save he earned Opening Day, but he’s clearly not the pitcher he used to be.
Now, there aren’t many reasons, if any, to give the Royals much confidence that Davis can recapture his magic. Instead, the painful reality is that Davis may be reaching, or has reached, the end of his line. Friday night’s opportunity was one he didn’t used to get, not because he wasn’t good enough to hold a game, but because he was, unless in desperate need of work after a long layoff, too good for such situations and too valuable to waste in a blowout when he might be needed in a critical situation the next day.
Three weeks ago, immediately following his blown save in Chicago, I suggested in this space that it was time for the KC Royals to seriously consider Davis’ value to the team. After Friday, it’s probably time for Davis and the Royals to thank each other for the good times, and go their separate ways before the bad times get worse.
Wade Davis gave the KC Royals great moments and great saves. Now, it may be time for him to bow out.