Commentary

Davis gives Rays hope for future

Top Tampa Bay pitching prospect sparkles in major league debut

Updated: September 8, 2009, 1:32 PM ET
By Jason Grey | ESPN.com

60 Feet 6 Inches

Jitters? What jitters?

Rays rookie starter Wade Davis certainly didn't have any problems with nerves in his big league debut Sunday, allowing just four baserunners in seven innings of work, striking out nine in a game his bullpen lost for him.

With a fastball that sits comfortably at 92-93 mph and can be dialed up to 95, plus a two-plane downer curve as his out pitch, Davis became the third player since 1962 to strike out the first four hitters in his debut, and he wound up fanning six of the first seven batters he faced, showing the skills that enabled him to strike out 140 hitters and post a 3.40 ERA in 158 2/3 innings at Triple-A this season.

Wade Davis
AP Photo/Reinhold MatayWade Davis showed signs of being the next big thing in the Rays' rotation.

Rookie starters often have problems with their command when they first get to the big leagues, usually trying to be a bit too fine and make the perfect pitch, but Davis, who said he was just trying "to throw strikes and get ahead," had no such issues. It was mildly surprising because the one knock on the highly touted pitching prospect has been issues with repeating his delivery, leading to occasional problems with both control and command. However, he was sharp in this outing, showing good fastball command and being able to spot his fastball on both halves of the plate, as well as mixing in an average changeup and cutter to go with his two plus pitches.

Manager Joe Maddon said he would announce Tuesday when Davis would make his next start, but since both he and Andy Sonnanstine were seemingly "auditioning" for Scott Kazmir's vacated spot in the Rays' rotation, and Sonnanstine was torched for eight runs in the third inning Monday, Davis' next start could come this weekend. One of the reasons the Rays felt comfortable in dealing Kazmir was both Davis and fellow prospect Jeremy Hellickson are expected to be ready to contribute next season. On Sunday, Davis showed he's ready to contribute immediately to AL-only teams down the stretch, although it remains to be seen how many more starts the 23-year-old will get before the season's end.

Fortunes Rising

Randy Wolf, Dodgers: Actually, Wolf's fortunes have been rising for a while now, but not many have noticed. Over the past 30 days, Wolf has been the No. 1 fantasy starter according to our Player Rater, just slightly ahead of Chris Carpenter. For the season, Wolf has a 3.22 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in 30 starts, and he has stepped up his game even more in the second half, with a 2.87 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 11 outings. Even with all that, he still is unowned in 40 percent of ESPN leagues. I can understand that, as Wolf always has been a pitcher I don't quite trust. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is 33 points below his career mark. That and a slightly depressed rate of homers per fly ball indicate he's been pitching with some good luck. However, he also has posted his best strikeout-walk ratio since the 2001 season and has a finishing schedule loaded with light-hitting offenses such as Arizona, San Diego, Washington, Pittsburgh and San Francisco, so it's entirely possible he will finish strong.

Jake Peavy,White Sox: The seemingly never-ending "will he or won't he?" saga of Peavy pitching in September took another turn this week, as Peavy has recovered well from taking a line drive off his elbow, throwing 60 pitches in a bullpen session Sunday and reportedly feeling much better, enough so that he should be able to pitch for the White Sox in about a week. Reports are he could start Sept. 15 or 16 at Seattle or Sept. 18 at home against the Royals, so it appears the ever-patient fantasy owners who have been holding on to him on reserve will get at least some value out of him in September.

Top 80 Starters

Note: Jason Grey's top 80 starters are ranked for their expected performance from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued.

1. Tim Lincecum, SF (1)
2. Chris Carpenter, STL (10)
3. Zack Greinke, KC (11)
4. CC Sabathia, NYY (2)
5. Justin Verlander, DET (4)
6. Adam Wainwright, STL (5)
7. Cliff Lee, PHI (3)
8. Felix Hernandez, SEA (8)
9. Jon Lester, BOS (9)
10. Ubaldo Jimenez, COL (32)
11. Javier Vazquez, ATL (13)
12. Matt Cain, SF (20)
13. Josh Johnson, FLA (12)
14. Dan Haren, ARI (14)
15. Roy Halladay, TOR (7)
16. Randy Wolf, LAD (46)
17. Wandy Rodriguez, HOU (23)
18. Chad Billingsley, LAD (19)
19. Scott Baker, MIN (26)
20. Clayton Kershaw, LAD (17)
21. Scott Feldman, TEX (56)
22. Tommy Hanson, ATL (25)
23. John Danks, CWS (29)
24. John Lackey, LAA (16)
25. Cole Hamels, PHI (24)
26. Josh Beckett, BOS (6)
27. Ted Lilly, CHC (30)
28. Jered Weaver, LAA (40)
29. Rich Harden, CHC (18)
30. Jair Jurrjens, ATL (42)
31. Matt Garza, TB (36)
32. Roy Oswalt, HOU (21)
33. Andy Pettitte, NYY (33)
34. Jonathan Sanchez, SF (58)
35. Edwin Jackson, DET (44)
36. Randy Wells, CHC (63)
37. A.J. Burnett, NYY (27)
38. Ryan Dempster, CHC (43)
39. Barry Zito, SF (60)
40. Joel Pineiro, STL (47)
41. Tim Hudson, ATL (NR)
42. Mark Buehrle, CWS (38)
43. James Shields, TB (34)
44. Yovani Gallardo, MIL (15)
45. Pedro Martinez, PHI (76)
46. Gavin Floyd, CWS (31)
47. Joe Blanton, PHI (41)
48. Tommy Hunter, TEX (68)
49. Ricky Nolasco, FLA (22)
50. Johnny Cueto, CIN (NR)
51. Brad Penny, SF (NR)
52. Clay Buchholz, BOS (66)
53. John Smoltz, STL (67)
54. Carlos Zambrano, CHC (50)
55. Scott Kazmir, LAA (45)
56. Jeff Niemann, TB (62)
57. Jake Peavy, SD (NR)
58. Bronson Arroyo, CIN (52)
59. Ryan Rowland-Smith, SEA (NR)
60. Jon Garland, LAD (NR)
61. Homer Bailey, CIN (NR)
62. Derek Lowe, ATL (28)
63. Nick Blackburn, MIN (NR)
64. Hiroki Kuroda, LAD (61)
65. J.A. Happ, PHI (35)
66. Kevin Correia, SD (NR)
67. Jason Marquis, COL (54)
68. Jeremy Guthrie, BAL (NR)
69. Brett Anderson, OAK (59)
70. Wade Davis, TB (NR)
71. Max Scherzer, ARI (37)
72. Doug Fister, SEA (NR)
73. Jorge De La Rosa, COL (39)
74. Tim Stauffer, SD (NR)
75. Doug Davis, ARI (NR)
76. Jarrod Washburn, DET (51)
77. Zach Duke, PIT (65)
78. David Price, TB (48)
79. Aaron Laffey, CLE (71)
80. Joe Saunders, LAA (NR)

Brad Penny, Giants: The new tonic for reviving pitching careers is called "moving to the National League." It's also worked for John Smoltz and Vicente Padilla recently. Penny has gone from being fantasy death with the Red Sox to his vintage self in two outings for his new club, throwing eight shutout innings in his first start and allowing two runs in seven frames in his second start, striking out six. The Giants' schedule is tougher than the Dodgers' down the stretch, but I'm not counting him out.

Fortunes Falling

A lot of fortunes are falling this month simply because pitchers are being shut down or limited for the rest of the season, including:

Yovani Gallardo, Brewers: The Brewers will not start Gallardo again until Sept. 15 against the Cubs and plan on limiting his work down the stretch with the team out of playoff contention. While that might wind up helping his long-term health, it's not going to help his fantasy owners. That's the problem sometimes with relying on young starters: They can get you close to the finish line, but you'll need other players to finish it off.

Ross Ohlendorf, Pirates: Just as Ohlendorf has been heating up, it looks like he's going to be shut down after two or three more starts to limit his season workload, which already is 32 innings heavier than last season's load. It comes at an inopportune time, as Ohlendorf has been a top-25 starter in our Player Rater over the past 30 days, and has posted a 2.70 ERA and 1.22 WHIP since the break while bumping his strikeout rate from five batters per nine innings to 6.5 per nine, making him an endgame play in NL-only leagues next season.

J.A. Happ, SP, Phillies: While Happ says he should be able to make his next start this weekend after having to miss his turn Monday (Jamie Moyer made the start instead), that's no guarantee. Happ strained a side muscle while taking batting practice Sunday, and these types of injuries can be notoriously tricky. "I felt something, and it hasn't gone away," Happ said. "I've had this before, and it's one of those things where they have a way of being unpredictable and lingering. We're trying to take the right approach here and knock it out before it gets worse." Happ already was trying to defy some statistical indicators -- including a BABIP about 50 points less than the norm -- that say he should not be having nearly the results he has been and should have an ERA at least a run greater, if not more. This problem isn't going to help.

Comings and Goings

Clayton Kershaw will miss his next start after bruising his shoulder running into the wall during batting practice Sunday. (Who knew batting practice was so hazardous to pitchers?) With an off day this week, the Dodgers might not need someone to step into the rotation. It's Kershaw's non-throwing shoulder, so this should not be a big issue beyond the one missed outing.

John Maine, who hasn't pitched in the big leagues since June 6 due to shoulder issues, might join the Mets' rotation this weekend against the Phillies. Still, it's hard to project him having much impact over the balance of the season.

Derek Holland will get five days of rest before his next start and six days of rest before the outing after that, as the team hopes that will help him out of problems that have seen him post an ERA greater than 16.00 in his past three outings.

Max Scherzer likely will get just another 15 to 20 innings over the remainder of the season as the team tries to keep him around the 170 mark.

Brandon Morrow is likely to be called up by the Mariners this week and is expected to take Luke French's spot in the rotation unless Doug Fister's blister problem is worse than anticipated. Morrow has had some success at Triple-A but has been inconsistent and has had trouble going past five innings much of the time, so don't count on much.

Tim Wakefield will miss at least his next start as he struggles with back issues and might pitch only once every 10 days down the stretch. Daisuke Matsuzaka is expected to be back with the Sox around Sept. 15.

• Part of the reason for the decline in Dan Haren's performance recently is that he's been dealing with a hip issue but pitching through it, and he might need an MRI after the season is over. He won't be pitching at 100 percent for the final few weeks.

Nate Robertson replaces Armando Galarraga in the Tigers' rotation, a move that should not interest fantasy players at all.

• The Indians and Pirates now are employing six-man rotations for the balance of the season if you're trying to plan any two-start weeks for any of their pitchers.

Jason Grey is a graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau's Scout Development Program and has won two Tout Wars titles, one LABR title and numerous other national "experts" competitions.

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