The starting rotation for the Arizona Diamondbacks has garnered a lot of attention this off season and rightfully so. It will definitely be a source of strength for the team entering the 2008 season and from top to bottom should be a force to be reckoned with. The fifth starter is typically someone who is good enough to start but is the person most likely to be skipped in order to keep the front line of the rotation on schedule. In the Diamondbacks case the fifth starter is someone who may not only be counted on for his arm but also with his bat. Micah Owings has drawn a substantial amount of press by winning a Silver Slugger award in his rookie season. His prowess with the lumber caused manager Bob Melvin to ponder aloud at the winter meetings wondering if perhaps Micah might take infield practice and play first base on occasion just to give him more at-bats. That notion was subsequently shot down when Spring Training opened as Melvin stated that Owings was going to be counted upon to contribute on the mound every 5 days. The front of the pitching staff has likewise found themselves as the center of attention.
Brandon Webb has nailed down the title of staff ace with his performances the past two seasons where he finished first and second in National League Cy Young voting. He will once again be the opening day starter when the Diamondbacks travel to Cincinnati Ohio to face the Reds on March 31. Barring any unforeseen circumstances Webb will be followed up by former ace Randy Johnson who will be attempting a comeback from yet another back surgery. During his limited role last year Johnson showed why he may be Arizona’s first Hall of Fame player by going 4-1 with a miniscule ERA before being shut down to repair a back problem. Following Randy Johnson will be newly acquired co-ace Dan Haren whom the Diamondbacks received from the Oakland Athletics for 6 very good prospects. Haren was the A’s opening day pitcher last season and along with Brandon Webb has been described as the best 1-2 punch in baseball from a pitching perspective. Teams have to be looking at the schedule and shuddering to think of potentially facing a three-game series of Webb-Johnson-Haren or having to deal with trying to pitch around the pitcher’s spot in the batting order when Micah Owings is on the mound.
Lost in the midst of all of this hoopla is the Diamondbacks fourth starter and second left-hander. Doug Davis came to the Diamondbacks during the 2006 off-season as part of the trade that sent disgruntled catcher Johnny Estrada to the Milwaukee Brewers. Davis was signed to a three year contract shortly after his arrival giving the Diamondbacks control for another two years. While with Milwaukee Doug Davis was a staff leader and was the opening day starter for the Brew Crew. So why is it that Davis seems to be forgotten? Doug Davis is a fairly unassuming person who goes about his business quietly and methodically. He is not flamboyant or demonstrative like Jose Valverde nor is he intimidating like Randy Johnson. He doesn’t have a nasty pitch like Brandon Webb’s sinker or Dan Haren’s split-finger fastball. But what he does is pitch smart. That’s not to say that Doug Davis is a “crafty left-hander”. I would never want to suggest such a title. Chicago Cubs manager Lou Pinella used that description last year and Davis let everyone know in no uncertain terms that he was not “crafty”. My wife is crafty, we have entire rooms and closets dedicated to craft projects and I know how she gets so I can totally understand where Davis is coming from. I know how much I would hate it if someone lumped me into a group of scrapbook making, needlepoint stitching, quilt designing crazy people. No, Doug Davis is not crafty; chances are he doesn’t even own a glue gun. But what he is could best be described as a pitcher with a unique delivery that confounds hitters. His approach is unique and in some ways unorthodox which confuses batters but likewise leads to some struggles on the mound as he tries to find his groove. Davis will throw a lot of pitches and he will allow runners on base. They don’t usually stay there long as Davis has a very good move to first leading to a lot of pick-offs. Due to the amount of pitches he throws, Davis tends to walk people thereby giving the opposing team opportunities to score. Doug overcomes that by pitching out of dangerous situations leaving him with a good win-loss record where he lives to pitch another day. So while the other members of the Diamondbacks staff may find themselves surrounded by a media circus, you’ll find Doug Davis working with pitching coach Mark Price or reviewing battle plans with the catchers preparing himself for another day of flying under the opposing team’s radar. I can’t think of a lot of pitching staffs that have an opening day starter as their number 4 guy. It makes you wonder how long it is going to be before coaches have to start worrying about facing Doug Davis like they do the other members of the Diamondbacks starting rotation.