KC Royals: Are Wade Davis’ Kansas City days done?

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

Early in the evening of the first day of April, with the KC Royals well on the way to an Opening Day victory over Texas at Kauffman Stadium, Wade Davis watched the game from the Royals’ bullpen. It was a place well-familiar to Davis, but one he hadn’t been in during a game since Oct. 2, 2016, the last time he pitched for the Royals. Reunited with the club after signing a minor league deal in January and then making the club in spring training, Davis watched as Greg Holland took the mound for the ninth inning.

There really wasn’t any reason to believe his team would need him. Holland, who reclaimed his old job as Royals’ closer during his own return to Kansas City last season, had a 14-9 lead after striking out Leody Taveras on three pitches to rescue Scott Barlow from a two-out, bases loaded jam in the eighth.

Things changed quickly, though. A single, two walks, a passed ball and a wild pitch combined to make it 14-10, prompting Manager Mike Matheny to pull Holland for Davis with one out.

Davis, looking like the fearsome eighth-inning setup man he’d been for Holland during the club’s 2014 and 2015 pennant runs, as Holland’s successor when a UCL injury ended his 2015 season, and in 2016 when the job was Davis’ alone, struck out the Rangers’ last two hitters.

The save went to Davis. It was just like old times.

But that was April, and this is September. Davis didn’t earn another save until July 24 and hasn’t earned one since; he’s struggled so much in six months that save opportunities were few and far between. A good case is makeable that the KC Royals would have been justified in letting him go in mid-May, and the case improved in June. And it didn’t help Davis’ cause when a right forearm strain forced him to the Injured List June 29.

The veteran righthander returned to action July 18 and pitched a scoreless inning against the White Sox. He appeared three more times in July without giving up a run.

The story was the same in Davis’ first five August games, and he’d lowered his pre-injury 8.06 ERA to 6.15 before St. Louis clipped him for a pair of runs Aug. 13. Since then, he had five scoreless appearances, but also gave up two earned runs twice before the Twins scored three against him last Saturday. His ERA is up to 6.75.

Now, however, more than his pitching threatens Davis’ season, and perhaps his Kansas City career.

Wade Davis is back on the IL with 17 games left in the KC Royals’ season.

Wednesday brought unwelcome baseball news to Kansas City. Starter Mike Minor went on the 10-day Injured List with left shoulder impingement syndrome, casting the remainder of his season in serious doubt. Unfortunately, Davis joined him there. Right shoulder inflammation is the culprit responsible for his return to the List; Davis’ IL assignment is retroactive to Sept. 12, the day after he surrendered those three runs to the Twins, meaning he may have been hurt then.

The two pitchers’ situations can’t be more different. Minor’s two-year contract all but guarantees his return to the club next season; Davis, though, is on a one-year deal. That, his rocky season, and two visits to the Injured List could imperil any interest the Royals might have in bringing him back.

And this latest malady may be Davis’ ultimate undoing. Injuries plagued him with Colorado in 2019 and 2020, including a right shoulder strain that robbed him of much of last season; those injuries, coupled with this season’s, won’t inspire confidence among Kansas City decision makers this winter.

That the season is almost over (only 17 games remain, including this afternoon’s series finale with Oakland) compounds Davis’ problem. He isn’t eligible for reactivation until the Royals are in Cleveland next week, but his condition, not the expiration of 10 days, will determine whether he’ll pitch again this season. And even if he can, he won’t have many chances to prove he’s healthy and can pitch effectively—the campaign ends Oct. 3.

So it is, considering the state of his right shoulder and the struggles of his season, that we may have seen the last of Wade Davis in a Kansas City uniform.

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Wade Davis’ status is uncertain. His time pitching for the KC Royals may be at an end. The next several days will tell much of the tale.