I don’t envy Zach Davies. As the only big league player coming back to the Chicago Cubs in the highly-criticized Yu Darvish trade, he’s going to face an inordinate amount of criticism this season.
It may only be spring training, but Davies is doing everything in his power to make a good first impression. On Friday, the soft-tossing right-hander added four more scoreless frames to his Cactus League resume. At this point, he’s now thrown nine frames without allowing a run – showing that his breakout showing last season was no fluke.
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In his first and only year with the Padres, Davies quietly put together the best season of his career. He made a dozen starts spanning 69 1/3 innings, which ranked 12th in the National League during the shortened season. His 2.73 ERA might be painting too cheery a picture, as he far outperformed his 3.88 FIP. Still, he clearly figured something out on the mound.
Like his rotation mates, Davies isn’t going to blow anybody away with velocity. But he’s intelligent and knows how to deploy his pitches effectively.
"“We may be at the very bottom of the league in terms of velocity,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “But in terms of pitchability, we’ll be right at the top. And I think that’s something our guys have done an exceptional job with.”"
The sinker baller slots into the middle of the Cubs rotation, likely either in the two or three spot behind ace Kyle Hendricks. Of course, these two guys will be endlessly compared this season – and it’s not hard to see why.
Cubs: Kyle Hendricks is the end goal for Zach Davies
Both rely on command and hitting their spots to find success. But that’s where the comparisons should stop. Why? Because Hendricks, simply put, has a body of work to point to where Davies does not – at least not yet.
"“It’s gonna be really fun just to toe the rubber and go to war with those guys and just learn from each other,” Hendricks said. “Every guy you come across, you learn something from them or they learn something from you. It’s just good collaboration, you know? So just talking, pitching.”"
In his final year of team control, Davies makes sense as a potential trade chip should the Cubs be out of contention mid-summer. Or, just maybe, he makes a strong first impression and Hoyer decides to lock him up with an extension.
Either way, Chicago has a lot riding on their new-look rotation. The spring has brought a lot of optimism – and soon, we’ll see if it’s misplaced or if the front office has pieced together a staff capable of shocking everyone in 2021.