PORT CHARLOTTE — They say Wade Davis rarely gets rattled.
The Rays rookie right-hander wears a stone-cold stare on the mound, a borderline scowl. That look doesn't change, whether Davis is striking out nine Tigers in his debut in September or giving up eight runs at Fenway Park the following start.
But even Davis, 24, was caught a bit off guard during his wedding to Katelyn in November outside of New York, when the priest dropped a few Yankee/Mariano Rivera references during the service.
"That was a little different," said his father, Ben. "He had a little bit of nerves the night before. I think he was a little more comfortable on the field."
That's perfectly fine with the Rays, who feel Davis' makeup and stuff are reasons he can duplicate his success over a full season if he ends up as their fifth starter.
They see a seasoned prospect capable of being a workhorse who can log 200-plus innings.
"He's got two great attributes: He's competitive as they come, and he doesn't really get rattled," Rays All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria said. "And that's all you need as a starting pitcher. I think his stuff says it all. He's got the stuff to be a major-league pitcher. But those two things are really what separate guys at this level."
You want competitive? There's the time while with Class A Southwest Michigan when Davis won the team's home run derby.
"He said the position players wouldn't talk to him for a couple days after that," Ben said.
There's the intensity with which Davis fishes, getting ticked if he comes up empty-handed. But judging by the 10-pound bass he recently caught, it rarely happens.
And when Davis returns to his hometown of Lake Wales each spring to work out with his former high school team, he sprints to cover bases during drills, outworking and motivating the teenagers. Davis smiled, saying, "Might as well go full speed."
"I really believe the difference is Wade's work ethic and him being a humble man," said Jasone Dewitt, Davis' coach at Lake Wales. "He doesn't let anything that happens change the way Wade Davis is. He's the same guy he was when he was 16-17 in Lake Wales.
"You put him between the lines, and you're going to get his look and 110 percent from him."
Though Davis, a third-round pick in 2004, has always been one of the Rays' top pitching prospects, he didn't make the rapid ascent to the majors akin to David Price. He spent four full seasons in the minors, racking up more than 700 innings. While Davis would have loved to be in the majors sooner, he now realizes the wait paid off in terms of mental development and allowed him to polish his offspeed pitches to complement his mid 90s fastball.
"The extra two years in the minors really helped me out," Davis said. "I think I could have pitched well in the big leagues a couple years ago but not over an extended period of time."
What impressed the Rays most about Davis' stint in the majors last season was not his dazzling debut but how he bounced back after failure at Fenway to throw a complete-game shutout in Baltimore. Minus Fenway, Davis had a 1.87 ERA in five outings.
"He processed the start and focused on the process of it and how he can get better. And it was a very unusual feel for the game at the major-league level for such a young guy," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "It was really impressive and something that stood out to us."
Davis says he's confident but far from content. Though the fifth starter's job appears his to lose, Davis feels he has to earn it with Andy Sonnanstine also competing and prized prospect Jeremy Hellickson in the wings.
"I'm not at the point where I'm like, 'I'm there,' " Davis said. "I know I can be there, and I know what I need to do to get there. It's just a matter of what I'm going to need to do to stay there."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.