ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Wade Davis believes he's beginning to hit his stride heading into tonight's start against the Cardinals.
Part of the reason for Davis' recent success — he has won three consecutive outings — has been the result of cleaning up some parts of his delivery.
But another key has been his decisionmaking on the mound, and Davis found that two heads can be better than one.
With Davis struggling earlier this season, manager Joe Maddon challenged him to elevate his game mentally, putting more thought into his pitch selection in certain moments. And in his past two starts, Davis has done better, allowing just two earned runs combined.
"We had two situations in my past two starts that have been pretty key situations, and we really stepped back and talked to the catcher," Davis said.
One such example was in Davis' most recent start, a 7-2 win in Houston on Saturday, when he faced a bases-loaded, two-out jam with the Rays clinging to a three-run lead. Before a 2-and-2 pitch to Brett Wallace, Davis said he was thinking slider, but after conferring with C John Jaso, he went with a curveball, drawing an inning-ending groundout.
"That made more sense to have somebody else like that, who has a lot of information that he studies, and so do I," Davis said. "So if you put your heads together, it's a lot easier."
Maddon said mechanics are one thing, but "your success is controlled by what you're thinking when you play at this level."
"You can't always rely on that blink moment, and just do it right then and there," Maddon said. "If you've thought about it in advance, and here it shows up, it's a lot easier to make a better decision. He has challenged himself to elevate his method of thinking during the course of the game, and I think he's done a good job. It's getting better."
GETTING PICKY: Maddon has always encouraged a "free market" when it comes to baserunning, telling players to err on the side of aggressiveness.
But Maddon has said the biggest problem so far this season has been how often the Rays have been picked off (nine, second most in the majors to the Royals' 10), especially in nonrunning situations. Maddon said part of it is taking "overzealous leads," and another is there's a lot of young players still learning, as well as ones from different organizations who didn't put as much emphasis on baserunning.
But to compete in the American League East, the Rays believe they must push the envelope on the bases.
"We've got to take chances," Maddon said. "If we want to go and put the heavy gloves on and go toe-to-toe in Madison Square Garden vs. the Yankees, it's going to be kind of difficult. We've got to fly like a butterfly and jab and move, and if we do, we'll have a much better chance against them and the Red Sox."
BACK ON TRACK: LHP J.P. Howell had an encouraging and confidence-building outing Wednesday against the Reds, striking out two in a clean inning, his first scoreless appearance in his past four.
Howell has had some struggles since coming back from shoulder surgery, including a recent bout with gout, but believes he's getting close to where he wants to be.
"It was definitely a lot less thinking, a lot more going," Howell said. "No scenarios running through my head, just getting the ball and my goal is to hit the glove and that's it. Now that I know what I've got to work on, it should be coming along here pretty soon consistently."
DRAFT BREEZE: The Rays signed 10th-round pick Jacob Faria, a right-handed pitcher out of Gahr (Calif.) High. They have signed 32 of their 60 picks.
MINOR MATTERS: Durham OF Brandon Guyer, INF Russ Canzler and OF Desmond Jennings made the International League All-Star team; all will be making their first appearance in the game, which is July 13 in Salt Lake City. Bulls play-by-play man Neil Solondz will call the game.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]om.